Know Your Rights

Introduction and Lourdes’s Story

Violence is a plague in the lives of many transgender and gender-nonconforming (TGNC) people, with hate-motivated beatings and murders very common, often involving extra cruelty. According to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, 44% of reported hate murders in 2010 were committed against transgender women. This terror-by-example causes the kind of fear that sends people underground, away from community services and support.

(To read our FAQ on this issue, click here.)

Call the cops? Police often participate in the intimidation themselves rather than providing protection; they often use abusive language, humiliate TGNC people and are widely responsible for injuries during custody and on routine patrols. Twenty-two percent of the 6,450 transgender and gender-nonconforming respondents to the 2011 National Transgender Discrimination Survey (NTDS) who had interacted with police said they’d been harassed by them, with rates even higher among people of color.

In recent years, the rash of murders has prompted an international outcry and since 1998 has been marked annually around the world on Transgender Day of Remembrance (November 20th). Also, following years of grassroots campaigning, a U.S. federal hate crimes law now covers TGNC victims as well. And protests against police brutality are beginning to bring changes in a few major American cities.

Nonetheless, continued reports about TGNC people being degraded, physically assaulted, and sexually abused while under arrest have caused concern. These harken back to one of the first and most high-profile campaigns to hold police accountable for anti-transgender violence: the murder case of transgender teen Brandon Teena. In 2001, the Nebraska Supreme Court held a local sheriff liable for both his own abusive treatment of Teena and his failure to protect him from murder after his rapists threatened his life. (Lambda Legal argued the case on appeal.)

Our FAQ on anti-TGNC violence describes current battles against anti-TGNC violence and mentions a variety of ways to connect with advocates and services, whether participating in a Transgender Day of Remembrance or Transgender Pride event in your community; helping establish TGNC-friendly police policies; or reaching out for legal advice or support through Lambda Legal’s Help Desk at 866-542-8336 or

Lourdes Ashley Hunter, 35

“I’ve always identified as gender-nonconforming. Luckily, I’ve always been accepted by my family and friends, but that’s not the case for everyone.

“The police profile transgender individuals a lot. They think that we’re all sex workers. There are cases where they harass people, disrespect them and take away their humanity. Sexual assault cases are not uncommon. They also use inappropriate pronouns, offensive language and pejorative terms.

“I’ve worked with the police in my capacity as a community organizer for over 20 years and my advice is: Know your rights. In New York City, for instance, you have the right not to be discriminated against for your gender identity and to be addressed by your appropriate pronoun.

“Never argue with the police. Defend yourself by knowing the law.”

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