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Bathroom Laws Targeting Transgender People Further Criminalize Their Lives

New report examines how transgender people suffer higher rates of incarceration and abuse in the criminal justice system

Washington, D.C., May 24, 2016 — Bathroom laws targeting transgender people contribute to a pattern of criminalizing individuals solely based on their gender identity, according to a landmark report released today. The report offers a snapshot of how the U.S. criminal justice system fails transgender people, targeting them through police profiling and harassment and subjecting them to abuse and violence in prison and detention facilities.

Unjust: How the Broken Criminal Justice System Fails Transgender People examines how transgender and gender non-conforming people face high levels of discrimination in many areas of life putting them at risk for economic insecurity, homelessness, and reliance on survival economies. Combined with policing strategies that profile and target transgender people, particularly transgender women of color, the result is high rates of criminalization of transgender people. For example, a shocking 21% of transgender women have spent time in prison or jail, compared to only 5% of all U.S. adults. And one in five (22%) of transgender people report being mistreated by police.

Once within the criminal justice system, transgender people are often discriminated against, verbally and sexually assaulted, refused adequate medical care, and treated with utter disregard for their identity and dignity.

The report was co-authored by the Movement Advancement Project (MAP) and the Center for American Progress (CAP), in partnership with the Advancement Project, Forward Together, JustLeadershipUSA, the National LGBTQ Task Force, the National Center for Transgender Equality, and the Transgender Law Center. It is available online at www.lgbtmap.org/criminal-justice-trans. The report is a companion to a broader report, Unjust: How the Broken Criminal Justice System Fails LGBT People, available at http://www.lgbtmap.org/criminal-justice.

“Anti-transgender bathroom bills effectively criminalize our full participation in public life,” said Sarah McBride, Campaigns and Communications Manager for the LGBT Research and Communications Project at the Center for American Progress. “These bills push transgender people into the shadows. If you can’t use the bathroom without fear of discrimination or violence, it becomes much harder to go to work, go to school, or access the public marketplace. Legislation like North Carolina’s H.B. 2 expose transgender individuals, particularly transgender women of color, to harassment - from both the public and law enforcement – merely for participating in daily activities.”

Among the variety of laws that disproportionately impact transgender people:

  • Bathroom Laws: Over the past year, cities and states have debated, and in some cases passed, laws criminalizing transgender people for using the restroom that matches the gender they live every day. In the 2015-2016 legislative session, at least 20 states proposed legislation restricting restroom access for transgender people.
  • HIV Criminalization Laws: Transgender people are among the groups most affected by the HIV epidemic. People living with HIV, including transgender people, face a patchwork of outdated and reactionary laws that penalize behavior by people living with HIV, even if those behaviors carry no risk of transmission or unintentionally expose others to the virus.
  • Criminalization of Sex Work: Faced with discrimination at school and work, high rates of homelessness, and limited access to meager safety net supports, some transgender people engage in sex work to earn income or trade for housing. Because transgender people, particularly transgender women of color and undocumented transgender immigrants, may be disproportionately represented among individuals engaged in sex work, they are frequent targets of laws criminalizing prostitution and related offenses. Police generally have wide discretion under these ordinances, and they often arrest individuals for vague violations such as “loitering with intent to solicit.”

“From a young age, transgender people, especially transgender people of color, are vulnerable to mistreatment, rejection, harassment, and discrimination. If transgender people enter the criminal justice system, they can be subject to a devastating cycle of abuse, and face significant challenges to rebuilding their lives,” said Ineke Mushovic, Executive Director of MAP. “When transgender people are three times more likely to be incarcerated, and fully a quarter of those incarcerated experience sexual assault, it is time to acknowledge that serious change is needed to ensure the fair treatment, health, safety and dignity of transgender people in the criminal justice system.”

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CO-AUTHORS

Founded in 2006, the Movement Advancement Project is an independent think tank that provides rigorous research, insight and analysis that help speed equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Learn more at www.lgbtmap.org

The Center for American Progress is a nonpartisan research and educational institute dedicated to promoting a strong, just and free America that ensures opportunity for all. We believe that Americans are bound together by a common commitment to these values and we aspire to ensure that our national policies reflect these values. We work to find progressive and pragmatic solutions to significant domestic and international problems and develop policy proposals that foster a government that is “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” www.americanprogress.org

PARTNERS

Advancement Project is a next generation, multi-racial civil rights organization. Rooted in the great human rights struggles for equality and justice, we exist to fulfill America’s promise of a caring, inclusive and just democracy. We use innovative tools and strategies to strengthen social movements and achieve high impact policy change. www.advancementproject.org

Forward Together is a multi-racial, multi-issue organization that is changing how we think, feel, act, and make policy about families. Whether chosen or biological, we work to ensure that all families have the power and resources they need to thrive. We work at the intersections of race, gender, and sexuality—and find ways to shift our culture and policy in the areas of reproductive justice, economic justice, and ending mass incarceration. www.forwardtogether.org

JustLeadershipUSA is dedicated to cutting the U.S. correctional population in half by 2030, while reducing crime. JLUSA empowers people most affected by incarceration to drive policy reform. www.justleadershipusa.org

The National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) is the nation’s leading social justice advocacy organization winning life saving change for transgender people. NCTE was founded in 2003 by transgender activists who recognized the urgent need for policy change to advance transgender equality. www.transequality.org

The National LGBTQ Task Force works to secure full freedom, justice and equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people. For over forty years, we have been at the forefront of the social justice movement by training thousands of organizers and advocating for change at the federal, state, and local level. www.thetaskforce.org

Transgender Law Center (TLC) changes law, policy and attitudes so that all people can live safely, authentically, and free from discrimination regardless of their gender identity or expression. Founded in 2002, TLC employs an integrated multidisciplinary approach–including impact litigation, policy advocacy, public education, and movement building–to protect and advance the rights of transgender and gender nonconforming people from coast to coast. www.transgenderlawcenter.org

Media Contacts:
Calla Rongerude
Movement Advancement Project
415.205.2420; calla@lgbtmap.org

Tom Caiazza
Center for American Progress