Know Your Rights

FAQ About Anti-Transgender Violence

Q: Sometimes when I’m out with friends, a police officer stops to harass me on the sidewalk, assuming I’m a prostitute. What should I do?

A: Your first step should be to get as much information as possible about the officer involved: badge number, precinct number, name, description, time of day and location. Police are required to provide their badge number and names—although make sure that you are not putting yourself in danger by collecting the information. If you are questioned by the police, ask if you are free to go. If they say you are, calmly walk away.

If you are harassed by police, it’s a good idea to contact a community-based organization that works on issues of police and institutional violence such as the New York City-based Anti-Violence Project (AVP) (www.avp.org or 212-714-1141) or another group under the umbrella of the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Projects (NCAVP) (www.ncavp.org or 212-714-1184 or info@ncavp.org). These groups can advise you on where to turn not just for legal advice but for support of other kinds.

Also contact your local police department’s Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) or Internal Affairs Bureau (IAB). Reporting the incident is very important for building an accurate measure of the problem overall.

Police harassment and outright brutality against transgender people are very common: Twenty-two percent of 6,450 transgender and gender-nonconforming respondents in the 2011 National Transgender Discrimination Survey (NTDS) who had interacted with police reported being harassed by them (the rate was much higher for transgender people of color). And almost one out of two respondents said they were uncomfortable about seeking help from police.

In a separate survey among 220 transgender Latinas in Los Angeles, two out of three reported verbal harassment by police and one of four reported sexual assault.

Back to top.

Q: What is being done to combat police mistreatment of transgender people?

A: There is litigation pending in response to incidents in several cities of police strip-searching, groping, conducting false arrests and chaining transgender people on handrails in “fish tank” fashion rather than placing them in cells. Meanwhile, advocates have been working with police to implement guidelines requiring respectful treatment of transgender people on patrol and in custody.

The results have been significant policy improvements in San Francisco, Portland, Los Angeles, New York City and Washington, DC.

In April 2012, The Los Angeles Police Department issued a new policy on treatment of transgender prisoners intended to “prevent discrimination and conflict.” Among the guidelines is this instruction:

“Treat transgender persons in a manner that reveals respect for the individual’s gender identity and gender expression, which includes addressing them by their preferred name and using gender pronouns appropriate to the individual’s gender self-identity and expression.”

The new LAPD guidelines also include a glossary of terminology and these key rules for field searches:

  • “A search or frisk shall not be performed to the sole purpose of determining an individual’s anatomical gender;
  • “Transgender individuals shall not be subject to more invasive search or frisk procedures than non-transgender individuals.”

Back to top.

Q: What does it mean that anti-transgender violence is now a hate crime in the United States?

A: A hate crime is a violent act motivated by bias. The idea behind hate crime law is that such acts don’t just affect the individual victim but also serve to intimidate an entire group of people—and therefore demand greater punishment than other crimes. Also, it takes much longer for victims to recover mentally from a hate crime, according to the American Psychological Association.

In 2009, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act was signed into law. It expanded the 1969 Federal Hate Crimes Law to include crimes motivated by a victim’s actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation or gender identity (defined in the law as “actual or perceived gender-related characteristics”).

The Hate Crimes Prevention Act was historic because it extended the first-ever federal protections to transgender people. Also, by requiring the government to provide grants and assistance to state and local authorities investigating and prosecuting hate crimes, it is intended to have the most practical effects possible.

If you are targeted in a hate crime, report the incident to your local police and seek the advice of an attorney or contact Lambda Legal’s Help Desk toll-free at 866-542-8336 or go to www.lambdalegal.org/help. The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Projects (NCAVP) (www.ncavp.org or 212-714-1184 or info@ncavp.org) can also provide help. Precisely document the details of what happened (and what kind of response you get when reporting the crime) in order to make sure police and any legal advisors are able to investigate properly, whether or not you are able to pursue prosecution under hate crime laws.

Back to top.

Q: Why is suicide so common among transgender people?

A: Trans people face hostility and discrimination with such frequency and in so many aspects of life that it is easy to turn that hatred inside. Among 6,450 transgender and gender-nonconforming respondents in the 2011 National Transgender Discrimination Survey, forty-one percent said they’d attempted suicide (compared to just 1.6% of the general population).

Health care failures contribute to this problem—whether that means being unable to see an accepting and knowledgeable doctor when ill; having no access to safe and affordable transition-related health care (such as hormone treatments or sex reassignment surgery); or despairing about these or other issues without basic psychological support. Research has shown a link between lack of health care coverage and the high suicide rate. The rate among subjects in a 2006 study dropped from 29.3 to 5.1 percent when they were given access to transition-related treatment. (Please see our “Transition-Related Health Care” fact sheet, downloadable here: www.lambdalegal.org/publications/trt_transition-related-health-care.)

Discriminatory health care and insurance policies persist despite medical consensus of the “efficacy, benefit and medical necessity” of transition-related surgery and other treatment, as the American Psychological Association put it in a 2008 statement. (For a list of similar resolutions, see: www.lambdalegal.org/publications/fs_professional-org-statements-supporting-trans-health.)

Meanwhile, transgender people are very often poor and face double the rate of unemployment (see www.transequality.org/Resources/Trans_Discrim_Survey.pdf). This can make for considerable stress and add to the suicide risk. Respondents to the NTDS were nearly four times more likely to have a total household income lower than $10,000 per year compared to the general population. (See our FAQ about transgender people in the workplace.)

If you or someone you know is at risk for suicide, there is support out there. The Trevor Project provides a suicide hotline for LGBT youth at  866-488-7386; or call 1-800-suicide, which serves the general population.

Back to top.

Q. What is being done about anti-TGNC bullying in schools?

A. Unfortunately, even TGNC young people are the targets of harassment. Bullying is an especially widespread problem: 78% of NTDS  respondents who had expressed a transgender identity or gender-nonconformity while in grades K-12 reported being harassed, 35% attacked, and 12% sexually assaulted.

Forty-nine states now require that schools have policies against discrimination and bullying, although only a third of those explicitly mention gender identity and/or expression. In April 2012, the Obama Administration voiced its support for the proposed Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA) and the Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA), which would put some federal muscle into the fight against bullying.

If you are bullied at school or in other settings, check out these resources

Educators should take a look at the Model District Policy for Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Students created in 2011 by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), available at www.glsen.org/cgi-bin/iowa/all/news/record/2819.html.

Back to top.

TRANSGENDER EMPOWERMENT: Visibility Is Key

Transgender rights are LGBT rights, but sidelining of transgender issues and people has always been a problem in the LGB movement, even when they’re at the very center of what’s going on, such as during the 1969 Stonewall riots. Since 2003, there has been a movement to supplement LGBT Pride marches with trans-focused events, including the massive Trans March in San Francisco every year. The upbeat emphasis on visibility and pride also balances the mourning theme of Transgender Day of Remembrance (see below). 

The activist side of Transgender Pride has exploded into a separate Transgender Day Of Action in recent years. Organized by New York City’s Sylvia Rivera Law Project to call attention to hate crimes, biased policing, and the intersection of racism and transphobia, the Day of Action has lately spread to Washington, DC and other cities as well.

Back to top.

PUERTO RICO MURDERS: Anti-Trans Attacks Prompt Hate Crimes Debate

Puerto Rico has an alarmingly high rate of transgender murders—at least six in 2011 alone—and an alarmingly low rate of prosecution of these crimes. Authorities’ refusal to deploy the U.S. Commonwealth’s 2002 hate crimes law in such cases has been infuriating for those seeking justice.

The struggle to boost law enforcement efforts on anti-LGBT murders may have borne some fruit in early 2012 when the FBI reportedly conducted hate crime trainings among Puerto Rico police. But advocates have good reason to be skeptical that major changes are afoot. Another new damaging twist in this saga was the recent attempt by the Puerto Rico legislature to remove sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, religion and ethnicity from the hate crimes law.

Back to top.

TRANS DAY OF REMEMBRANCE: Rage and Sadness Every Year

Every November 20th, communities around the world mark Transgender Day of Remembrance to honor those killed in the previous year due to anti-transgender prejudice: often the event is marked by candlelight vigils; a recitation of names; and/or a peaceful public march of some kind. The Day (and the Transgender Awareness Week leading up to it) is in November because it was Rita Hester’s November 28th, 1998 murder that inspired the “Remembering Our Dead” web project and a San Francisco candlelight vigil in 1999. Hester’s murder— like many/most anti-transgender murder cases—has yet to be solved.

Back to top.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Contact Lambda Legal at 212-809-8585, 120 Wall Street, Suite 1900, New York, NY 10005-3919. If you feel you have experienced discrimination, call our Help Desk toll-free at 866-542-8336 or go to www.lambdalegal.org/help.