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NEWS

Guest Post: Broken Legal System in the United States Fails LGBT People of Color

editor - August 30, 2016 - Pre-trial detention

This guest post comes from the Movement Advancement Project, an independent think tank that provides rigorous research, insight and analysis that help speed equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.  As with all of our guest posts, the views represented are of the author and may not reflect the views of Fair Trials.

A 21-year-old multiracial gay man is arrested in New York and has to appear in court. “When I was being arraigned they were like, ‘[Name of defendant] had an altercation inside the hotel with his lover,’ and they say his name and everyone started laughing … the prosecutors were laughing, the judge was laughing, the bailiff was laughing, the two cops over here were laughing. Everyone was laughing. … I was embarrassed. I just stood there.”[1]

It’s well established that people of color often struggle to attain fair treatment in the U.S. criminal justice system. For people of color who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT), this unfair treatment is compounded by a system-wide lack of understanding about the lives of LGBT people, particularly transgender people, as well as added stigma and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

In August, the Movement Advancement Project issued a comprehensive new report that examines how racism and anti-LGBT discrimination combine to make LGBT people of color uniquely vulnerable to entering the U.S. criminal system and facing unfair and abusive treatment once they are in it. Among the many problems documented in the report is that many LGBT people of color, who are disproportionately likely to face poverty and economic insecurity, simply can’t afford to pay an attorney to help them navigate the system. And if they can, it’s a good bet their attorney will lack even basic LGBT competency.

Adding to these challenges, lack of support from family and higher rates of poverty among LGBT people of color mean they often face unique barriers raising money to afford bond or bail. In a 2015 survey of LGBTQ prisoners in the United States, 74 percent of individuals currently incarcerated had been held in jail prior to their trial because they did not have the money for pre-trial release.[2]

The MAP report documents how discrimination against LGBT people, including LGBT people of color, is pervasive throughout the halls of justice, meaning they are more likely to be found guilty and sentenced to serve time in jail or prison. And this is where the report offers its starkest portrayal of the failings of the system. It shows conclusively that when LGBT people of color are placed in confinement facilities, they are extremely vulnerable to harassment and inhumane treatment. In one study of substantiated allegations of sexual abuse and assault by staff in U.S. immigrant detention facilities over a four-year period, 20 percent of cases involved transgender detainees.[3]

For too many LGBT people of color in the United States, the right to fair treatment in the criminal justice system is a mirage. The Unjust report includes a series of recommendations for making the system more just. Let’s hope America listens.

[1] Excerpted from Meredith Dank et al., “Locked In: Interactions with the Criminal Justice and Child Welfare Systems for LGBTQ Youth, YMSM, and YWSW Who Engage in Survival Sex” (Urban Institute, September 2015).

[2] Jason Lydon et al., “Coming Out of Concrete Closets: A Report on Black & Pink’s National LGBTQ Prisoner Survey,” Black & Pink, 2015.

[3] United States Government Accountability Office, “Immigration Detention: Additional Actions Could Strengthen DHS Efforts to Address Sexual Abuse,” November 2013, http://www.gao.gov/ assets/660/659145.pdf.

This is a guest post written by the Movement Advancement Project and may not reflect the views of Fair Trials. For a copy of the full report, Unjust: How the Broken Criminal Justice System Fails LGBT People of Color, go to www.lgbtmap.org/criminal-justiceIf you are a journalist interested in this story, please telephone Fair Trials’ press department on +44 (0) 20 7822 2370 or +32 (0) 2 360 04 71.

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