When Milan Nicole was 16 years old, she went out for an ordinary walk, on an otherwise ordinary day in her New Orleans neighborhood. Moments after leaving her door, she recalls, a man approached her and invited her back to his apartment for a drink—an offer she accepted.
Seconds later, she was in handcuffs. The man was a police offer, and he was arresting Nicole for prostitution.
“I was not doing street work,” insists Nicole.
A transgender woman of color, Nicole says her story is indicative of how police continue to treat members of the LGBT community—particularly transgender women and LGBT people of color.
“I was charged with a ‘crime against nature’—a felony offense—just for being a black transgender female walking down the street,” says Nicole.
The stats show that hers is not an isolated case.
A study released on Tuesday by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs shows that transgender people are 3.32 times more likely to face violence from law enforcement than non-transgender people. As if that weren’t bad enough, transgender people of color are nearly 2.5 times more likely to face attacks by police than white members of the transgender community.
Nicole’s story underscores an often-adversarial relationship the LGBT community shares with police departments across the country—and not just in the Deep South.
Only half of LGBT victims of violence that reported their assaults to the Anti-Violence Project, reported their experiences to law enforcement.
“In New York City, we’ve seen law enforcement arresting members of the LGBT community for possessing condoms—which they cite as evidence of prostitution,” New York City Anti-Violence Project community organizer Ejeris Dixon tells TakePart.
Meanwhile, in San Francisco, Community United Against Violence organizer Maria Carolina Morales says that an enhanced deportation scheme by local police has driven undocumented victims of LGBT hate crimes underground—afraid to even go to the hospital after an attack, for fear that police will come and start asking questions.
“Victims of violence are seeing their survival criminalized by the state,” says Morales.
The result of this police antagonism is that huge numbers of hate attacks against the LGBT community go unreported, and uninvestigated. As a result of the accumulated distrust that has built up over the years, “Only half of LGBT victims of violence that reported their assaults to the Anti-Violence Project, reported their experiences to law enforcement,” says Dixon.
Nationally, according to the NCAVP report, the raw numbers of reported anti-gay hate crimes in 2012 are shocking on their own. There were 2,016 incidents of anti-LGBT violence in 2012, and 25 documented LGBT-hate homicides.
“Though the recent spate of hate violence incidents in New York City has captured the media’s attention, this report demonstrates that severe acts of violence against gay men, transgender people and LGBTQ people of color are, unfortunately, not unique to Manhattan nor to the past month, but rather part of a troubling trend in the United States,” says Chai Jindasurat, NCAVP Coordinator at the New York City Anti-Violence Project. “NCAVP’s report findings are a wakeup call that LGBTQ people are facing extremely high levels of violence that need to be addressed as a priority in the United States.”
Ending violence against the LGBT community will take a massive overhaul in the way huge segments of the population continue to regard LGBT rights—a battle for hearts and minds that shows no immediate end in sight.
But that is no excuse for making the LGBT community wait to receive equal protection and treatment from law enforcement.
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