Momentum: Keeping Them Honest

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December 21, 2013

A troubling case made headlines earlier this month when newspapers reported that a New York defense attorney tried to convince a judge in open court that his client, who was convicted of the brutal murder and robbery of a 29-year old transgender woman he met online, should receive a lighter sentence because the victim was a transgender sex worker. “A sentence of 25 years to life is an incredibly long period of time judge. Shouldn’t that be reserved for people who are guilty of killing certain classes of individuals?” he argued, adding, “Who is the victim in this case? Is the victim a person in the higher end of the community?”

Fortunately, the judge didn't agree. Before he handed down a sentence of 29 years to life, he rebutted the offensive comments saying, "This court believes every life is sacred."

We couldn’t agree more. Unfortunately, all too often, the story doesn’t end that way.

Every day, LGBT people and people with HIV are demeaned and devalued by, and face serious discrimination and abuses of power from, the very government institutions and actors that are supposed to protect them and ensure their civil rights.

In 2014, Lambda Legal will continue to build on the momentum of our national campaign on government misconduct by releasing the full report from our national survey Protected and Served? Interaction with Police, Prisons, Courts and School Security. The report, which analyzes the data from 3,000 survey responses, will provide a timely snapshot of the experiences LGBTQ and HIV-affected people have in dealing with these institutions in the United States and offer recommendations for addressing the misconduct.

The results from the survey identify unacceptable discriminatory behavior across agencies.  In most instances, respondents of color, low-income respondents and transgender or gender non-conforming (TGNC) respondents reported even higher rates of misconduct.

  • LGBT African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans reported being stopped and physically searched during their most recent encounter with police at rates nearly double that of all respondents.
  • 14% of all respondents with police contact in the past 5 years reported being verbally assaulted by police, with such assaults reported even more frequently by respondents of color (24%), people living with HIV (21%), low-income respondents (21%), and transgender or gender non-conforming respondents (22%).
  • 27% of respondents who had spent time in jail or prison reported that they were sexually harassed by jail or prison staff.
  • 82% of respondents with HIV who had been in jail/prison reported that they were harassed, physically assaulted or sexually assaulted by prison staff.
  • 33% of transgender or gender non-conforming respondents recently involved in court, heard anti-LGBT language from a judge, attorney or other court employee.

While in school, 57% of respondents reported being sent to detention, 20% being suspended and 20% believed they received harsher treatment due to their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.

There is still a lot of work to do on these issues. It is Lambda Legal’s hope that our findings will support efforts to improve the treatment of LGBT people and those living with HIV by police departments, courts, prison systems, schools and other government agencies.

Lambda Legal will continue to advocate for meaningful reforms and work to strengthen our government misconduct work by leveraging strategic partnerships with other groups across the country who are also working on these issues. Through our “Government Misconduct Share Your Story” project, we will continue to collect and highlight firsthand accounts of misconduct in order to bring the data to life and help make the case for needed change.

By making our work to address government misconduct a high priority, we hope that in the coming years there will be fewer examples of hate to denounce and many more fair-minded individuals like Justice Buchter to celebrate.

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