Executive Summary

Find Your State

Know the laws in your state that protect LGBT people and people living with HIV.
A national survey exploring discrimination by police, courts, prisons and school security against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) people and people living with HIV in the United States, conducted by Lambda Legal.

Download the Executive Summary (PDF).

Go to:

1. Introduction

2. How the Survey Was Conducted

3. Major Findings

4. Disproportionate Rates of Misconduct Reported by Marginalized Groups

5. Summary of Recommendations for All Government Agencies Included in the Protected and Served? Survey


“I was arrested and charged with prostitution at a local casino. While the case was subsequently dismissed without going to court, during my arrest, I was physically and verbally assaulted by the arresting officers and others. I was put in handcuffs so tight that my wrists swelled up and turned purple. My face was shoved into a wall while I was handcuffed. The officers threatened, mocked and demeaned me for being transsexual.”

—Natalie, Las Vegas, NV

LGBT people and people living with HIV still face serious discrimination and abuse of power directed against them—often by the very government institutions that are supposed to protect them and ensure their civil rights. 

In 2012, Lambda Legal—a national organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of LGBT people and those living with HIV through impact litigation, education and public policy work—conducted a national study to explore government misconduct by the police, courts, prisons and school security against LGBT people as well as people living with HIV in the United States. A total of 2,376 people completed the individual survey (for more details, see How the Survey Was Conducted).

Our study, like others, has found that LGBT people and people living with HIV experience significant discrimination at the hands of government entities. Police and other government entities, through their actions and inactions, continue to treat LGBT people and people living with HIV as second-class individuals and criminals. Compounded by factors such as race and income, this discrimination can take many forms, such as harassment and violence by police or prison guards, discriminatory statements by court personnel, hostility by school security and disproportionate discipline by school administrators.

Many government and law enforcement entities still operate under policies, practices and attitudes that have historically characterized LGBT people—and in some cases, people living with HIV—as criminals. Currently, over 30 states have laws that criminalize the sex lives of people living with HIV. Even when the laws have changed, longstanding practices can contribute to the continuing criminalization of LGBT people and people living with HIV, such as:

  • the targeting of gay men in bar arrests or sex stings;
  • the profiling of LGBT people by the police for stops and searches; and
  • the use of condom possession as evidence of sex work that disproportionately impacts transgender women.

In addition, operating systems and processes have not been reformed to ensure that the rights of LGBT people and people living with HIV are respected and that they are treated with dignity.

Numerous studies have shown that transgender people face disproportionate and pervasive discrimination. Transphobia and lack of understanding and respect on the part of police, court staff and other civil servants can result in a host of abuses, including misnaming and misgendering (which can place transgender people in physical danger), harassment, abuse and violence. Rates of violent crime against members of the LGBT community, especially against transgender people, remain alarmingly high, and police response to this violence is too often inadequate.

The prevalence of such mistreatment can:

  • make segments of our communities distrustful of law enforcement and criminal justice institutions;
  • disadvantage students by forcing them to drop out of school leaving them undereducated, or unfairly involving them in the juvenile justice system (a phenomenon known as the “school-to-prison pipeline”); and
  • further brand portions of the community as criminals simply because of who they are.

These forms of government misconduct compromise the health, safety, psychological wellbeing and overall sense of belonging in society of LGBT people and people living with HIV and, as a result, weaken our democracy and our society.

Lambda Legal has a proud history of standing up when law enforcement officials target LGBT people and people living with HIV for abuse. Lambda Legal has challenged criminal laws directed at or disproportionately applied against members of our community, and has sought recourse when legal authorities violate the rights of LGBT people and people living with HIV. It is Lambda Legal’s hope that the findings in this survey will support other research, advocacy, litigation and policy efforts to improve the treatment of LGBT people and people living with HIV by police departments, courts, prison systems, schools, and other government agencies.

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In 2012, Lambda Legal launched a national Government Misconduct campaign to assess the current issues and legal needs of LGBT people and people living with HIV regarding police accountability and government misconduct—in order to help shape Lambda Legal’s future agenda for litigation, education and policy work and support other research, advocacy, litigation and policy efforts.  

With the help of Strength in Numbers Consulting Group, Lambda Legal held initial focus groups and interviews with people from over 35 organizations to identify the most pressing areas of concern with regard to government misconduct against LGBT people and people living with HIV. Among the national and local organizations were LGBT rights groups, university programs, anti-violence initiatives, youth organizations, HIV/AIDS advocacy and service organizations. The participants in these discussions were leaders, staff members and volunteers.

From this information, Lambda Legal staff narrowed the list of possible government misconduct issues to those based on the needs expressed and connection to Lambda Legal’s mission and scope of work. A first survey was created focusing on the interactions of LGBT people and people with HIV with police, courts, prisons and school security and school discipline. A second survey was created for organizational representatives to report the needs of the communities they represent along with issues they currently work on and the areas they believe should be high priorities for national LGBT organizations.

Both surveys were then posted on the Lambda Legal website in English and Spanish (remaining there for five months) and promoted to Lambda Legal members and supporters via email and social media.


Over 50 partner organizations also promoted the surveys. The organizational survey was completed by 35 organizations. The data in this report focuses on responses from the individual survey.

In total, we collected 3,095 individual survey responses. Of those, 2,376 met these criteria for inclusion in the final survey sample:


  • they identified as one or more of: LGB, questioning, queer, SGL, other sexual orientation, transgender, two-spirit, genderqueer, gender-nonconforming, other gender identity, HIV-positive;
  • they reported their age as 18 years old or older;
  • they live in United States or its territories; and
  • they completed at least 1/3 of key demographic questions.

Respondents were also given the opportunity to share their own accounts of their experiences with government misconduct. A subsequent “Share Your Story” project was launched in 2013; some of those stories are incorporated into this report.

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Major Findings >

Protected and Served?

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