RELEASE: Bathroom Laws Targeting Transgender People Further Criminalize Their Lives

New report examines how transgender people suffer higher rates of incarceration and abuse in the criminal justice system.

Washington, D.C. — Bathroom laws targeting transgender people contribute to a pattern of criminalizing individuals solely based on their gender identity, according to a landmark report released today. The report offers a snapshot of how the U.S. criminal justice system fails transgender people, targeting them through police profiling and harassment and subjecting them to abuse and violence in prison and detention facilities.

Unjust: How the Broken Criminal Justice System Fails Transgender People” examines how transgender and gender nonconforming people face high levels of discrimination in many areas of life, putting them at risk for economic insecurity, homelessness, and reliance on survival economies. Combined with policing strategies that profile and target transgender people, particularly transgender women of color, the result is high rates of criminalization of transgender people. For example, a shocking 21 percent of transgender women have spent time in prison or jail, compared with only 5 percent of all U.S. adults. And one in five transgender people (22 percent) report being mistreated by police.

Once within the criminal justice system, transgender people are often discriminated against, verbally and sexually assaulted, refused adequate medical care, and treated with utter disregard for their identity and dignity.

The report was co-authored by the Movement Advancement Project, or MAP, and the Center for American Progress, or CAP, in partnership with the Advancement Project, Forward Together, JustLeadershipUSA, the National LGBTQ Task Force, the National Center for Transgender Equality, and the Transgender Law Center. It is available online at www.lgbtmap.org/criminal-justice-trans. The report is a companion to a broader report, “Unjust: How the Broken Criminal Justice System Fails LGBT People,” available at http://www.lgbtmap.org/criminal-justice.

“Anti-transgender bathroom bills effectively criminalize our full participation in public life,” said Sarah McBride, Campaigns and Communications Manager for LGBT Progress at the Center for American Progress. “These bills push transgender people into the shadows. If you can’t use the bathroom without fear of discrimination or violence, it becomes much harder to go to work, go to school, or access the public marketplace. Legislation such as North Carolina’s H.B. 2 exposes transgender individuals, particularly transgender women of color, to harassment—from both the public and law enforcement—merely for participating in daily activities.”

The variety of laws that disproportionately affect transgender people include:

  • Bathroom laws: Over the past year, cities and states have debated, and in some cases passed, laws criminalizing transgender people for using the restroom that matches the gender they live every day. In the 2015-16 legislative session, at least 20 states proposed legislation restricting restroom access for transgender people.
  • HIV criminalization laws: Transgender people are among the groups most affected by HIV. People living with HIV, including those who are transgender, face a patchwork of outdated and reactionary laws that penalize the behavior of people living with HIV, even if those behaviors carry no risk of transmission or unintentionally exposing others to the virus.
  • Criminalization of sex work: Faced with discrimination at school and work, high rates of homelessness, and limited access to meager safety net supports, some transgender people engage in sex work to earn income. Because transgender people, particularly transgender women of color and unauthorized transgender immigrants, may be disproportionately represented among individuals engaged in sex work, they are frequent targets of laws criminalizing prostitution and related offenses. Police generally have wide discretion under these ordinances, and they often arrest individuals for vague violations such as loitering with intent to solicit.

“From a young age, transgender people, especially transgender people of color, are vulnerable to mistreatment, rejection, harassment, and discrimination. If transgender people enter the criminal justice system, they can be subject to a devastating cycle of abuse and face significant challenges to rebuilding their lives,” said Ineke Mushovic, Executive Director of MAP. “When transgender people are three times more likely to be incarcerated and fully one-quarter of those incarcerated experience sexual assault, it is time to acknowledge that serious change is needed to ensure the fair treatment, health, safety, and dignity of transgender people in the criminal justice system.”

For more information on this topic or to speak with an expert, contact Tom Caiazza at or 202.481.7141.

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PARTNERS

The Advancement Project is a next-generation, multiracial civil rights organization. Rooted in the great human rights struggles for equality and justice, we exist to fulfill America’s promise of a caring, inclusive, and just democracy. We use innovative tools and strategies to strengthen social movements and achieve high impact policy change. www.advancementproject.org

Forward Together is a multiracial, multi-issue organization that is changing how we think, feel, act, and make policy about families. Whether chosen or biological, we work to ensure that all families have the power and resources they need to thrive. We work at the intersections of race, gender, and sexuality—and find ways to shift our culture and policy in the areas of reproductive justice, economic justice, and ending mass incarceration. www.forwardtogether.org

JustLeadershipUSA is dedicated to cutting the U.S. correctional population in half by 2030, while reducing crime. JLUSA empowers people most affected by incarceration to drive policy reform. www.justleadershipusa.org

The National Center for Transgender Equality, or NCTE, is the nation’s leading social justice advocacy organization winning lifesaving change for transgender people. NCTE was founded in 2003 by transgender activists who recognized the urgent need for policy change to advance transgender equality. www.transequality.org

The National LGBTQ Task Force advances full freedom, justice, and equality for all LGBTQ people. We are building a future where everyone can be free to be their entire selves in every aspect of their lives. Today, despite all the progress we’ve made to end discrimination, millions of LGBTQ people face barriers in every aspect of their lives: in housing, employment, health care, retirement, and basic human rights; these barriers must go. They also face persecution, harassment, and violence for simply being themselves; this must change. That’s why the Task Force is training and mobilizing millions of activists across our nation to deliver a world where you can be you. www.thetaskforce.org

The Transgender Law Center, or TLC, changes law, policy, and attitudes so that all people can live safely, authentically, and free from discrimination regardless of their gender identity or expression. Founded in 2002, TLC employs an integrated multidisciplinary approach—including impact litigation, policy advocacy, public education, and movement building—to protect and advance the rights of transgender and gender nonconforming people from coast to coast. www.transgenderlawcenter.org

CO-AUTHORS

Founded in 2006, the Movement Advancement Project is an independent think tank that provides rigorous research, insight, and analysis that help speed equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. Learn more at www.lgbtmap.org.