With support for gay marriage at record high levels in the United States, it would seem like the LGBTQ community has entered the social mainstream and become more widely accepted, so that gays and lesbians have less reason to worry about violence directed against them.
But there’s a painful irony here in studies indicating that gays and lesbians continue to face harassment and even violence, and some of it is coming from a group that many would expect to be the most protective of them: their local police.
Studies indicate that a surprisingly high percentage of LGBTQ victims of violence have also experienced police misconduct. There are also reports indicating that violence and hate crimes against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people often go unreported because of a chronic level of distrust between the LGBTQ community and law enforcement.
Even as gay people are finding greater acceptance among a wide swath of the American public, problems with law enforcement continue to be an issue today. Why is that?
In recent years, high profile cases of police brutality directed against African Americans have made national news and launched nationwide debates about how to deal with police misconduct directed against people of color. But far less attention has been given to how police interact with members of the gay community.
That’s not to say this issue hasn’t been studied, though -- it has. And the results are not promising.
A 2013 Williams Institute survey found that 48 percent of LGBTQ victims of violence also said they had dealt with police misconduct. Two years later, a U.S. Transgender Survey found that 58 percent of people who are transgender experienced verbal harassment and other forms of mistreatment during their interactions with police. And nearly half of those who responded to the survey said they feel uncomfortable seeking assistance from police.
More recent studies have found that transgender people are particularly vulnerable to becoming victims of violence, whether they’re out on the street or even in their own homes. And particularly disturbing is that some of them reported that this violence has been at the hands of law enforcement. According to at least some of the victims, law enforcement is often part of the problem.
In some but not all of these cases, two key factors emerge: race and income. Black transgender people have reported much higher rates of biased harassment and assault than those who are white, while other studies indicate that many of the LGBTQ victims of police harassment reside in impoverished neighborhoods that are heavily policed. Some of them are homeless and also face persistent housing discrimination.
It would be a mistake to suggest that police are uniformly anti-gay. Today, police officers and many departments in large cities have made concerted efforts to enforce hate crimes laws and crack down on anti-gay violence. Today, police officers march in gay pride parades and hold fundraisers for gay community centers. This wasn’t always the case.
Traditionally, the relationship between the gay community and law enforcement was entirely negative, for a simple reason: gays viewed police as “the enemy” because it was law enforcement and vice squads that enforced laws banning homosexual acts. While the U.S. Supreme Court has since ruled those laws are an unconstitutional violation of an individual’s right to privacy, for decades cops regularly raided gay bars and arrested patrons. In fact, the modern LGBTQ Pride movement started after a police raid at New York’s Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village, on June 28, 1969, leading to four nights of rioting.
Despite the increased public support for gay civil rights and marriage, and even the growing number of openly gay people working as police officers, there are still levels of distrust between both sides.
The federal National Crime Victimization Survey reports that between 2012 and 2016, nearly 300,000 crimes were committed against gay people nationwide, and a significant percentage of those victims said they weren’t comfortable coming forward or speaking up about what happened due to fears about how police and law enforcement would treat them. The sponsors of the survey believe that hate crimes are vastly underreported as a result.
Whether the motivation for this harassment is sexual orientation, race, or poverty isn’t entirely clear.
Your rights should never be violated. If you’ve been the victim of police misconduct, consult the attorneys at the Michigan Legal Center. We specialize in protecting our clients from all manner of police brutality and misconduct. With more than 20 years of experience and more than $200 million worth of legal cases, we’re here to defend the residents of Michigan.
The attorneys at the Michigan Legal Center are happy to answer any questions and offer advice on the necessary steps to receive compensation after experiencing the consequences of police misconduct. Call 1-800-961-8447 for your free consultation.