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Report: LGBT People of Color Treated Unfairly in the Criminal Justice System

A new report says LGBT people of color are discriminated against and abused in the criminal justice system. (iStockphoto)
A new report says LGBT people of color are discriminated against and abused in the criminal justice system. (iStockphoto)
August 8, 2016

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Missouri continues to debate anti-discrimination laws for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people as a new report puts the spotlight on how the criminal justice system is impacting LGBT people of color.

The study, co-authored by MAP (the Movement Advancement Project) and the Center for American Progress, found that LGBT people of color are over-represented in jails and prisons. Naomi Goldberg, policy and research director at MAP, said that one-in-five young people in juvenile justice facilities identify as LGBTQ, and 85% are youth of color.

"So, LGBT people of color are at the intersections of policing, unsafe schools, and certainly when you look at conditions in jails and prison, that they are frequently the most unsafe," Goldberg said.

Missouri law does not currently extend civil rights protections on the basis of sexual orientation; and there has been a push to strengthen Missouri's religious objection laws, which would allow business owners to refuse service to LGBTQ customers based on the proprietor's religious beliefs.

According to Goldberg, people of color and LGBTQ individuals face unique challenges getting legal representation, a pre-trial release, or fair sentencing. She said they are also arrested at higher rates.

"When we talk about policing of communities of color, you know frequently it is trans or gender-non-conforming people of color who are really on the front line," Goldberg said. "There are stories of transgender women of color walking down the street who are profiled for being sex workers simply for walking. Or you have LGBT kids who police harass, they profile."

Goldberg said one key question is why LBGT people of color have so much contact with law enforcement in the first place.

"If we can work on addressing many of those issues - employment discrimination, housing discrimination - we can really stop the flow into the system," she said. "And then we need to work on obviously fixing the system itself."

In 2015 the City Council of Springfield passed a law protecting LGBTQ people from discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations. But several months later, voters rescinded the ordinance.

Supporters of the repeal said the anti-discrimination protections opened the door for sexual predators in public spaces. The Human Rights Campaign called the vote disappointing, saying everyone should be able to live, work, and care for each other without fear of discrimination.

Veronica Carter, Public News Service - MO