LGBTQ People in the Criminal Legal System
Updated: Jul 1
Black trans women and gender nonconforming people have been at the forefront of fighting for LGBTQ rights since the beginning. As we celebrate LGBTQ Pride this month, we must acknowledge the history of Pride—which is at least partially a story of police violence against women of color.
After years of police violence, surveillance, harassment, and discrimination, Black trans women and gender-nonconforming people led the LGBTQ community in organizing and standing up to the violence against their community. Perhaps the most famous example of this is what we now refer to as the Stonewall riot, but there were many riots before that as police had been targeting LGBTQ people for decades.
Today, although LGBTQ rights have come a long way, LGBTQ people still face serious challenges within the criminal legal system—they are arrested, incarcerated, and subjected to community supervision at significantly higher rates than straight and cisgender people. The numbers are staggering, especially for LGBTQ people of color, including Black trans women and gender-nonconforming people who continue to have extraordinarily disproportionate contact with the criminal-legal system:
Nearly 1 in 2 (47%) Black transgender and gender-nonconforming people have been incarcerated.
Black transgender women are incarcerated at 10 times the rate of the general American population.
41% of Black transgender and gender-nonconforming people have been arrested or held in a cell due to their gender identity/expression alone.
Among youth, approximately 85% of LGBTQ youth in the juvenile justice system are youth of color.
To better understand some of these experiences, the National Black Women’s Justice Institute has launched work to examine police encounters with Black women and girls and gender-nonconforming and nonbinary people to understand how “everyday” encounters with police inflict violence and harm on them, including on their emotional wellbeing, physical health, and perceptions and experience of safety in their communities. This type of research is critical to ensure that we build toward the safety of all Black people in the United States. It also builds on the community-based policing research that many Black queer and trans communities have been leading for years—work that has too often gone unseen and unacknowledged.