What Does Ferguson Mean for the LGBTQIA Community?

January 28, 2015 in inQueery

equalrightsloveunitesTwo recent grand jury decisions not to indict Darren Wilson – the white police officer who shot and killed the unarmed, black teenager Michael Brown Jr. – or Daniel Pantaleo – the white police officer who choked the unarmed, black man Eric Garner to death – were followed by weeks of protests across the nation. These decisions and the protests that followed increased public debate about whether the United States criminal justice system is, in fact, unjust. National news outlets continue to focus on the rioting and looting by protesters without touching on how these incidents of police force against black men relate to wider systemic problems. There is evidence that certain populations are treated unfairly by law enforcement and by the courts in the United States.

The United States Department of Justice released a national study in 2008 that revealed that black participants were almost three times more likely than white, hispanic, and latino participants to report that their contacts with police involved police officers using force against them or threatening them. The Attorney General Eric Holder stated at the Annual Meeting of the American Bar Association’s House of Delegates in 2013 that “black male offenders have received sentences nearly 20 percent longer than those imposed on white males convicted of similar crimes. This isn’t just unacceptable – it is shameful.” The Sociologists for Justice released a list of peer-reviewed research and books that provide evidence for racial profiling and police brutality against communities of color. One book provides evidence that “Nationwide, racial minorities are pulled over at double the rate of whites.” The ACLU released several reports about racial injustices in the United States criminal justice system. One study done in Oakland, CA revealed that “African American youth are 24 times, Hispanic youth are 4 times, and Asian youth are 3 times more likely than whites to be arrested and booked.” If that wasn’t evidence enough of mistreatment, the report also revealed that “More than half – 56.6% – of the total arrests referred to Probation were ‘nonsustained,’ but a shocking 78% of all arrests/referrals deemed ‘non-sustained,’ were for Black youth.”

There is undeniable evidence that people of color are treated unfairly in the United States justice system. So, what about the LGBTQ community?

According to the organization Critical Resistance, “35-50% of homeless are queer.” This puts the queer population at a much higher risk than the general population for being fined or jailed just because more are living outside. While in jail queer people are also at a high risk of experiencing violence from both prisoners and prison guards.

Transgender people, especially transgender people of color, face the brunt of this discrimination in the LGBTQ community. Critical Resistance reported that “49% of attacks on transgender people in San Francisco are committed by police.” The National Center for Trans Equality reported that “Nearly one in six transgender people (16%) (including 21% of transgender women) have been incarcerated at some point in their lives—far higher than the rate for the general population. Among Black transgender people, nearly half (47%) have been incarcerated at some point.”

Findings from a national transgender survey revealed that “One-fifth (22%) of respondents who have interacted with police reported harassment by police, with much higher rates reported by people of color.” This survey of transgender individuals also revealed that “16% of respondents who had been to jail or prison reported being physically assaulted and 15% reported being sexually assaulted.” The researchers who conducted this survey also reported that transgender women of color faced the highest rates of discrimination in almost every domain of life.

As the number of people protesting against police brutality continues to increase, we need to make sure that LGBTQ voices and stories are being heard. This movement to end police brutality, summary executions, militarization of police forces, and racism in the criminal justice system, has the momentum to bring large-scale change, like the Stonewall Riots and other events of the Civil Rights Movement. This is our opportunity to address the detrimental intersection of race, gender, and sexuality based oppressions. Without diminishing the struggles of other populations, we must push for equal treatment for people of our community, especially for transgender women of color.

This is a call to action. We can do good work with organizations, such as Critical Resistance, The Transgender Law Center, and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, that work to end discrimination against our community. The ACLU released a Community Action Manual that encourages people to understand the culture of their community’s police department. It is important to consider that police departments across the nation have different protocols and different histories when it comes to the use of force. The ACLU also works to end discrimination against transgender people and LGB people with their LGBT Project, which assists LGBT folks in gaining legal representation for discrimination and human rights cases.

There are also organizations like the Transgender Economic Empowerment Initiative (TEEI) that work to prevent homelessness, incarceration, and discrimination. This organization is located in San Francisco and connects transgender individuals with trans-friendly companies and organizations. They work to make sure transgender people have communities of support and are financially secure. As Critical Resistance points out, preventing homelessness and poverty also prevents interactions with police and incarceration. If you are in the need of career counseling and other support, TEEI is great organization to contact.

In general, education goes a long way toward ending discrimination perpetrated by police officers and others. The National Center for Transgender Equality released an article titled 52 Things You Can do for Transgender Equality. This article describes such action steps as changing the policy of an organization where you work or developing a workshop on how to respect transgender people. This list is especially great for LGBQ people or allies because it gives specific ways in which others can advocate on behalf of the transgender community.

Whether in the streets protesting, at our places of work, or within our close friend circles, we can make real change happen, and the time to do it is always now.

Revae Hitt is a Guest contributor at InQueery.