Anti-Gay Bias Prevalent in California Court System, New Report Says

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Disturbing findings in first-ever attempt to gauge anti-gay discrimination in the judiciary
February 2, 2001

(LOS ANGELES, February 2, 2001) — A new report by the Judicial Council of California says that anti-gay bias is a major problem in the court system statewide, with over half of lesbians and gay men reporting anti-gay comments or actions when sexual orientation became an issue, and nearly a third of court employees believing that it is unsafe for them to come out in the workplace.

Jon W. Davidson, senior counsel at Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund and who for six years worked with the committee that authored the report, said, “California should be proud that it is the first state to have its judiciary take up these issues. Nevertheless, the report’s findings are disturbing.”

He added, “ Those charged with administering justice – the judges, lawyers, and employees of the court system – are the ones most often responsible for the bias and prejudice encountered by lesbians and gay men who use the courts. As the report recommends, the courts need better training, stronger anti-discrimination policies, and stronger enforcement of those policies.”

“California is one of the most progressive states when it comes to lesbian and gay equality. If the problems are this severe here, imagine what they must be like in other parts of the country,” said Davidson.

The 150-page report, released January 31, marked the first time that a state has had its judiciary conduct an inquiry into sexual orientation fairness in the courts. It was authored by the Judicial Council’s Sexual Orientation Fairness Subcommittee, which surveyed 2,100 court users and 5,500 court employees between fall 1998 and early 1999. Of those, responses came from 1,225 court users and 1,525 employees. The report’s principal findings include:

  • 56% of lesbian and gay respondents experienced or observed anti-gay action or comment when sexual orientation was an issue, with those comments most frequently made by a lawyer or court employee.

  • One in five court employees heard derogatory terms, ridicule, snickering, or jokes about lesbian and gay men in open court, with those comments being made most frequently by judges, lawyers, or court employees.

  • In those instances where sexual orientation became an issue, 56% of gay court users did not want to state their sexual orientation, and 38% felt threatened in court because of their sexual orientation. Also, 29% of them believed they were outed by someone else, while another 25% felt forced to state their sexual orientation against their will.

  • 29% of court workers believe it is unsafe to be out in the workplace; 59% believe it is better if lesbians and gay men were not open about their sexual orientation.

  • One in five lesbian and gay court employees reported experiencing discrimination in the workplace because of their sexual orientation, compared with only 2% of non-gay employees.

“It was more likely than not that there would be negative consequences for gay people whenever sexual orientation issues arose in court. Clearly, there is much work ahead to make our courts open to all,” Davidson said. Lambda is the nation’s oldest and largest legal organization dedicated to lesbians, gay men, and people with HIV/AIDS.

A full copy of the report is available on

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Contact: Jon Davidson at 323-937-272 ext. 228
Peg Byron at 212-809-8585 or 888-987-1984 (pager)



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