We all know that the historical relationship between the LGBTQ community and law enforcement has been less than perfect. In fact, to call it tumultuous would be an understatement. The 1969 Stonewall riots in New York, which are commonly considered to be the start of the modern LGBTQ rights movement, were a direct response to police misconduct and harassment of LGBTQ individuals and businesses.
A lot of progress has been made in the fight for LGBTQ rights in the 45 years since Stonewall. Non-discrimination ordinances are being passed in municipalities across the country, and marriage equality is the law of the land in most states. But the types of incidents that sparked the Stonewall riots are still occurring. In our community, there remains a strong sense of distrust of the criminal justice system. The concern that law enforcement will not appropriately respond to LGBTQ individuals during criminal investigations is far from unfounded.
Many LGBTQ victims of crime are apprehensive about calling the police or reporting the violence they have experienced, and those who do choose to report often face insensitive treatment, wrongful arrest or harassment by representatives of the criminal justice system.
According to a 2013 report from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (Report), only 45 percent of LGBTQ survivors of hate violence reported their incidents to the police. Of those survivors reporting to the police, 32 percent reported experiencing hostile attitudes from police, and transgender survivors of violence were 3.7 times more likely to experience police violence compared to cisgender survivors.
Knowledge of these incidents or fear of experiencing something similar will continue to deter LGBTQ individuals from engaging with law enforcement when violence occurs, until something is done to heal this broken relationship.
In an effort to better address the needs of LGBTQ survivors of violence, Kansas City Anti-Violence Project is committed to improving the treatment of our community by law enforcement and allowing survivors access to the justice that they rightfully deserve.
Over the years, we have provided training for law enforcement officers, advised departments on policy improvements, and worked closely with our LGBT community liaison in the Kansas City Police Department, but none of these things alone can change the fact the LGBTQ survivors of violence often feel that they have to suffer in silence. This must be addressed directly with our community.
To do this, a new coalition of LGBTQ organizations and representatives of local law enforcement agencies was founded earlier this year to examine the experiences that LGBTQ individuals have had with the criminal justice system and work together to improve relationships. The goal of the Law Enforcement and LGBTQ Advocacy Coalition (LELAC) is to increase awareness and knowledge in order to empower LGBTQ individuals to seek services and report when they have been a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, hate crimes or other types of violence.
But this cannot be accomplished by just a handful of people. For us to truly address the barriers that LGBTQ individuals face when reporting crimes and working with law enforcement, we need to fully understand the experiences and perceptions of all members of our community.
In November, LELAC launched the first step in our work toward this goal. We will be conducting a survey and research project that examines not only what has occurred in past interactions between LGBTQ individuals and police, but also what our fears, concerns and beliefs are about what may happen in the future. We need to know whether a person would or would not report an incident of violence, but also why they feel the way they do about reporting. The voices of our community need to be heard if we are going to make real change.
Please consider participating in the online survey at LELAC Survey.
Victoria Pickering is the education and outreach coordinator for the Kansas City Anti-Violence Project. KCAVP’s vision is to end all types of violence in the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. If you or someone you know needs support or services, please call KCAVP at 816-561-0550.“