The Transgender Community, Youth, and Law Enforcement

           The transgender community faces many forms of discrimination in day-to-day life. For example, several reports examining treatment of transgender employees show that they face significantly higher rates of discrimination in the workplace.[1] The transgender community earns significantly less than the cisgender community. Further, discrimination by law enforcement contribute to transgender individuals being falsely identified as criminals and may lead to higher rates of incarceration. For example in some cities, such as New York and Los Angeles, having more than two condoms on your person can be used as evidence that you are a sex worker.[2] Police often falsely accuse transgender women of being sex workers and search them at higher rates than their cisgendered peers.[3] Therefore, transgender women carrying condoms are suspect of criminal activity just for being in public and practicing safe sex.[4] For these reasons, there is a high level of distrust in the transgender community towards law enforcement. Transgender people are therefore less likely to seek police protection.[5] This leaves them at a higher risk of being exploited without recourse before they even enter the prison system.[6]

            The issues become more convoluted when examining transgender youth as many young people identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual before they identify as transgender. For this reason, many studies focused on youth examine lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth together with transgender youth. It is known that a disproportionate number of LGBT youth are homeless.[7] Seven different studies of homeless youth in the U.S. have concluded that approximately 20% of homeless youth are LGBT.[8] Some more recent reports say that the average is closer 40%.[9] This is disproportionately high given that LGBT youth make up just 5 to 10% of the general population.[10] The LGBT Task Force reported that anywhere from a quarter to a third of homeless youth engage in survival sex (i.e., trading sex for basic living needs).[11] Further, LGBT youth are around three times more likely to engage in survival sex than their heterosexual peers, making them more at risk of criminalization.[12]

            LGBT youth have also been found to be overcharged with criminal offenses, and particularly sexual offenses.[13] Because of police discrimination, public displays of affection and gender presentation make queer youth more likely to be charged with acts linked to homelessness such as loitering, public urination, public drunkenness, and littering.[14] It has also been found that queer youth are more likely to be prosecuted for age appropriate sexual behavior.[15]

            Once found to be a criminal, incidences of discrimination continue within the criminal justice system.[16] The ways in which this discrimination affects the health and wellbeing of the incarcerated transgender community needs to be examined further and policies need to be pushed by groups focused on gender and sexuality rights to address these grave disparities.

-- HWLJ Lead Editor


[1]{C} Transequality, Injustice at Every Turn: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, (2011), available at (last visited Dec. 12, 2013).

{C}[2]{C} Human Rights Watch, Condoms as Evidence, (2012), available at (last visited Dec. 12, 2013). [San Francisco changed this practice in the summer of 2013; see St. James Infirmary, Condoms As Evidence, (2013), for more information on San Francisco’s practices].

{C}[3]{C} Emi Koyama, Erasure of transgender youth in the sex trade: How transgender community, sex worker’s movement, and anti-trafficking movement fail transgender youth, (2011), available at (last visited Dec. 12, 2013).

{C}[4]{C} Id.

{C}[5]{C} Id.

{C}[6]{C} Id.

{C}[7]{C} Laura Durso & Gary Gates, Serving our youth: findings from a national survey of service providers working with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless, (2012), available at (last visited Dec. 12, 2013).

{C}[8]{C}  Id.

{C}[9]{C} Id.

{C}[10]{C} Nat’l Alliance to End Homelessness, LGBT homeless fact sheet, (February 2012), available at (last visited Dec. 12, 2013).

{C}[11]{C} The Nat’l Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth in juvenile courts, (2006), available at (last visited Dec. 12, 2013).

{C}[12]{C} Steven Gaetz, Safe streets for whom? Homeless youth, social exclusion, and criminal victimization, Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice, 46(6), (2004).

{C}[13]{C} Equity Project. Hidden injustice: Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth in juvenile courts, (2009), available at (last visited Dec. 12, 2013). 

{C}[14]{C} Id.

{C}[15]{C} See State v Limon, 122 P.3d 22 (Kan. 2005) for a particularly egregious example of a sentencing structure for a homosexual youth that far exceeded what his heterosexual peer would receive.

{C}[16]{C} Id.