U.S. News

Police discrimination against U.S. LGBT community pervasive: report

NEW YORK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Law enforcement agencies in the United States regularly discriminate against and harass lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, according to researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles.

LGBT people of color and members of the transgender community were most targeted by police officers, according to a report produced by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law. The study drew data from various recent national surveys, court cases and anecdotal evidence.

Forty-eight percent of LGBT victims of violence polled in a 2013 survey reported experiencing police misconduct, the UCLA report said. Nearly half of transgender respondents in another national survey said they felt uncomfortable seeking police assistance.

There are some 9.5 million LGBT people in the United States, where sodomy laws existed in every state until 1961.

It wasn’t until 2003 that the U.S. Supreme Court declared those laws to be unconstitutional.

There still isn’t a federal provision that comprehensively bans discrimination based on actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity, according to the report.

Law enforcement in the United States has a history of mistreating the LGBT community and discrimination and harassment continue to be pervasive, the report said.

Survey data, as well as individual testimonies and anecdotes, analyzed in the UCLA survey indicated how discrimination and abuse by police officers led to a weakening trust in law enforcement within the LGBT community and resulted in fewer crimes being reported to the authorities.

A recent study cited in the report found that 40 percent of gay and bisexual male survivors of domestic violence believed the police would be unhelpful or very unhelpful. Fifty-nine percent thought police would be more helpful to a heterosexual woman in the same situation.

Another example cited in the UCLA survey is that of a transgender woman in Boston who settled a case with the local police department in 2013 after she was arrested allegedly for using the women’s restroom at a homeless shelter.

She also alleged that, after officers took her to the police station, they forced her to remove her shirt and bra and jump up and down while they ridiculed her.

A special task force on policing, established by President Barack Obama after recent major clashes between police and local communities in Missouri and New York, released recommendations this week aimed at closing rifts between police and the communities they serve.

“Many police forces have implemented their own internal non-discrimination policies and trainings as well as procedures on interactions with transgender people to prevent harassment,” Amira Hasenbush, co-author of the report, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an email.

“These are certainly steps in the right direction, but the still very high levels of reported discrimination and harassment show that there is still much work to be done in this area.”