Know Your Rights: Protesting While LGBTQ or HIV+

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Know the laws in your state that protect LGBT people and people living with HIV.

Last updated: June 5, 2020

Select each section to view action steps and resources for LGBTQ people and people living with HIV before, during, and after a protest. Click here to download shareable infographics for social media.

Your rights as a protester.
  1. You have the right to participate in a protest.
  2. The right to protest is a fundamental right protected by the First Amendment.
  3. This does not extend to speech or conduct that incites violence.
How to prepare.
  1. Go with a friend or with an organization.
  2. During the COVID-19 pandemic, wear a mask. You’ll be protecting yourself and others around you.
  3. Pack as light as possible.
  4. Bring identification, prescriptions in their original bottles, and any other medical supplies you may need.
  5. Bring water to flush out your eyes in case you are pepper sprayed. Chilled water is better. 
  6. Write down two phone numbers on your arm: 1) a close friend/partner who knows you are going and will be reachable, and 2) the number of local LGBTQ-affirming jail support/legal support (start with the National Lawyers Guild’s list).
  7. Keep your phone off or on Airplane mode. Do not take photos or videos of other people protesting. If you do take photos or videos, do not post them on social media.
What to do if you are arrested.
  1. Try to remain calm and to not physically resist arrest or touch any police officers.
  2. The police will conduct a search of you and your things.
  3. You have the right to remain silent, whether or not an officer tells you. Do not share anything more than your name, date of birth, and address.
  4. Other than that, say “I want to speak to a lawyer.” Do not say anything more.
  5. If you are held and bail is set, and you need the assistance of a bail fund, you can ask your lawyer about contacting a bail fund. There are many bail funds across the country. The LGBTQ Freedom Fund focuses on LGBTQ people in need of bail assistance.
  6. You do not have to disclose medical conditions, like HIV status, to police.
  7. If the police took your medication, tell them when you need to take it.
  8. Police cannot legally deny you medication or medical care, but be aware that there are reports of this happening.
For trans protesters.
  1. Ask that searches be done by an officer whose gender matches yours or presents the least danger. Police are never allowed to search you to assign you a gender. If this happens, calmly say “I do not consent to this search.”
  2. If possible, surround yourself with friends of both binary genders so you will have support wherever you are placed.
  3. Expect that you may be jailed with people of your gender assigned at birth regardless of your wishes or your ID.
  4. Ask to be placed with the gender that confirms yours or where you will feel safest. If you are placed incorrectly, ask to be moved or to be released because of safety concerns.
  5. Try to enlist other people who are being detained with you to support your requests.
  6. You can request to be placed in a unit for vulnerable individuals if the jail has one, but be aware this could mean you are placed in a cell alone, which can be dangerous.
What to do once you are released.
  1. In some areas, most protesters are being processed and released relatively quickly without bail. In others, processing is taking longer or it is more likely that bail will be set.
  2. Write down everything you remember as soon as possible, including names and badge numbers. Include physical descriptions of any officers who would not disclose their name or badge numbers.
  3. Take pictures of any injuries.
  4. Contact Lambda Legal at lambdalegal.org/help if you were mistreated by law enforcement due to your sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or HIV status during the protest or while arrested or detained. Note: Lambda Legal’s Help Desk will not be able to represent those charged with a criminal offense.
Additional resources.

Local projects or organizations that can connect you to pro bono legal representation:

  • New York City: GoodCall: 833-346-6322 (run in partnership with NYC's various public defender services. Brooklyn Defender Services: 240-531-1971.
  • Los Angeles: The National Lawyers Guild (NLG) is organizing mass defense for those arrested in the Los Angeles-area protests. Arrestees who are released can fill out this form. There is also a hotline available at (310) 313-3700.
  • Minneapolis: Colin Kaepernick's Know Your Rights Camp has set up a form to request legal assistance in connection with the protests.
  • Chicago: Cook County Public Defenders Office (for those detained): 844-817-4448. You will need the person’s full legal name and date of birth. Mass Defense Committee Hotline (if criminally charged due to participation in demonstrations): 773-309-1198.
  • DC: Law4BlackLives DC: (202) 888-1731.

National Lawyers Guild Legal Support Hotlines (across the country): 

  • San Francisco/Bay Area: Demo Public Line (415) 909-4NLG (415-909-4654) & Demo Jail Line (415) 285-1011
  • Sacramento, CA: (916) 500-4654
  • Georgia (statewide): (678) 902-JAIL (678-902-5245)
  • Idaho (statewide): (208) 991-4324
  • Massachusetts (statewide): (617) 431-6626
  • Detroit: (313) 925-2626
  • Minnesota (statewide): (612) 444-2654
  • St. Louis, MO: (314) 312-0836
  • New Hampshire (statewide): (802) 417-2173
  • New Jersey (statewide): (908) 818-0002
  • Buffalo, NY: (716) 332-4658
  • North Carolina (statewide): (919) 408-7569
  • Ohio (statewide): (614) NLG-OH77 (614-654-6477)
  • Eugene, OR: (541) 687-9180
  • Portland, OR: (503) 902-5340
  • Central PA: (717) 686-9989
  • Pittsburgh: (412) 212-6753
  • Austin, TX: (512) 817-4254
  • Houston, TX: (512) 975-5880
  • Seattle, WA: (206) 658-7963
  • Madison, WI: (608) 520-0654
  • Vermont (statewide): (802) 417-2173