Dr. William Schulz: US Police Have Failed  Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered People



Transcript of Statement by Executive Director of Amnesty International USA






NEW YORK, September 22  –  As events in New Orleans have reminded us with sobering clarity, the measure of a society is not how it tends to the well-off and well-connected but how it protects the vulnerable, the voiceless and the victimized. Today, with the release of Amnesty International’s new report, it is clear that police across the United States have failed to protect the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and have committed serious abuses against them.

Let me state from the outset that this is not a blanket condemnation of law enforcement. Many police officers work hard to defend the rights of every citizen without regard to sexual orientation, gender, race, class or ethnicity. Much progress has been made in the thirty-six years since the Stonewall riots against police abuse and repression in New York City that spawned the LGBT rights movement and from which our report takes its name.

But we must call to account those who have misused police power and committed human rights violations against the LGBT community, including abuses that are tantamount to torture. It is a sorry state of affairs when police officers misuse their power to inflict suffering rather than prevent it, but that is precisely what Amnesty International’s new report has found.

Our report describes a shameful state of affairs. It makes clear that if you are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, certain laws and ordinances, such as vague “morals” regulations or quality of life statutes, may be selectively enforced against you . And if you are a transgender person, a person of color, if you were born outside the United States or if you are young or low income, your chances of being abused are even greater. For example, officers approached a Latina transgender woman in New York and asked her, “are your breasts implants or hormones?” and “what’s up with your genitalia?” One officer then asked her to show him her breasts. She was afraid so she complied. He then let her go.

If you are an LGBT person and the police are summoned to a domestic dispute that involves physical abuse, police reportedly often fail to respond or respond inappropriately. They may arrest both parties, or, if the victim is a person of color or transgender, the police sometimes even assume the victim to be the abuser. If you are an LGBT person and the victim of a “hate crime,” the police may not recognize the incident as such or assume you provoked the violence.

Quite simply, Amnesty International’s new report finds that police abuse and misconduct against members of the LGBT community is a persistent and widespread problem across the United States. It is unacceptable that those who are charged with the grave responsibility of protecting our safety – the safety of all of us – are not only derelict in their duty but also are guilty of committing human rights abuses. A badge must never be a shield for abuse.

Let me illustrate what kinds of abuse we are talking about with a horrific, but by no means atypical, account. You will find it on the first page of our report. One day, deputies from the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department ordered Kelly McAllister, a white transgender woman, out of her parked car. She refused. Perhaps this was not a prudent decision, but it hardly called for what followed. The deputies reportedly beat her, pepper sprayed her, “hog tied” her, and dragged her across the pavement face down.

Two weeks later, she was again in the custody of the Sheriff’s Department at the Sacramento County Main Jail and placed in a prison cell with a male inmate who struck, choked, bit and raped her. Hospital medical staff who treated her confirmed that she had been sexually assaulted. The response of some in the Sheriff’s Department? To allegedly taunt her with accusations that she enjoyed being the victim of a sexual assault.

Following her release, McAllister filed a complaint. The Sheriff’s Department investigated. The rapist accepted a plea of “unlawful intercourse in jail” and drew a three-month sentence. As for the deputies who set this chain of events in motion--they weren’t even subject to an investigation.

Sometimes sexual, physical and verbal abuse by law enforcement officers occurs simultaneously. The reported verbal assaults range from name-calling to sexual taunts: “You need a real man” or “Try me and you won't be a lesbian,” “freak,” “he/she/it,” “dyke,” “faggot,” “sissy” or “princess.” Police officers have reportedly roughed-up LGBT individuals, beaten and kicked them. And they have allegedly committed acts of rape and other forms of sexual assault that are tantamount to torture and ill treatment.

Our report finds that police profile LGBT people as criminal in a number of different contexts and selectively enforce laws relating to “morals regulations” and quality of life. The targeting of LGBT people of color by law enforcement mirrors the systemic racism found in policing in the United States in general. Transgender individuals in particular report being profiled as being involved in suspicious activity, as sex workers or as criminals while going about everyday business.

The report also documents incidents of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of LGBT individuals during arrest and searches and while in police detention. Transgender people and individuals who do not conform to stereotypes about gender report that during searches police have sometimes inappropriately touched their genitals to establish their “true” sex or conducted personal body searches in public.

Perhaps this is predictable. Our researchers surveyed the largest police department in every state, as well as Washington, DC, and San Antonio, to learn about their interactions with and responses to LGBT people, their training practices and detention procedures. We found that only 24 percent of the 29 police departments that responded have a policy regarding strip searches of transgender people and only one in three has a policy on detention of transgender people.

It was striking that only 38 percent of the responding departments have an LGBT liaison officer. Less than one in five – only 17 percent – have policies on how to deal with same-sex domestic violence. And only 24 percent have a policy or practice governing the investigation of sexual assault against LGBT people.

We should acknowledge, however, that 69 percent of the departments responding report that they provide training on issues relating to LGBT people and communities. The work of Sergeant Brett Parson of Washington, DC, in training and other areas is a fine example for the rest of the country.

But we need many more Sergeant Parsons. We must work to change police attitudes and behavior because too frequently homophobia and transphobia – prejudice against transgender people – among law enforcement personnel trigger abuse. As the cases in this report demonstrate, police have committed numerous abusive and humiliating acts with brazen impunity. One might say that this pattern of impunity has encouraged a climate in which insensitive and cruel actions against the LGBT individuals are excused or ignored.

Even though international law, as well as some state and local laws, prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, if the guardians of the law themselves are guilty of a persistent pattern of abuse—as our report suggests—then we are all at risk.

Here in New York City, our report finds that police abuse of LGBT people is a serious and widespread problem, mirroring our national findings. In particular, our researchers found patterns of police abuse and misconduct involving discriminatory enforcement of quality of life ordinances against LGBT youth and transgender people of color. We also heard reports of transgender women being unfairly profiled as sex workers. This frequently occurs in areas of increasing gentrification, including the West Village, the site of the Stonewall riots and an area that traditionally provided a safe space for LGBT individuals. While the NYPD has improved relations with the LGBT community, the department must institute reforms, including adopting specific policies on searching and detaining transgender individuals and ensuring that police don’t selectively enforce quality of life regulations.

Although the findings of our report are both disheartening and alarming, it is the reality of each individual human tragedy that arouses our ire and spurs us to action. We hear the call when a police officer reportedly rapes a lesbian at gunpoint, as one woman in Athens, Georgia, alleged, and told her that “the world needed at least one less dyke and he was going to make sure that happened.”

We hear it when State troopers set out to entrap gays near Detroit in an operation that they tauntingly called “bag a fag.”

And we hear it when a transgender woman reports an abuse of power such as a police officer in the Washington, DC, area who stated, “You do it with me, or I’m going to arrest you for prostitution.”

If we are serious about protecting human rights, then case by case, city by city, state by state we must speak out. In the case of Kelly McAllister, Amnesty International is calling on the public to write to the Sheriff’s Department to demand a full and transparent investigation into her treatment. The findings should be made public and those responsible disciplined.

Amnesty International calls on police departments everywhere, but particularly in our target cities, to sign our Pledge for Professionalism, affirming their commitment to combat discrimination and violence against LGBT people. We want it on record that they will do the following:

■  Send a clear message to all officers that abuse and ill treatment of LGBT people will not be tolerated.

■  Ensure that all allegations and reports of police abuse and misconduct are promptly, thoroughly and impartially investigated, and that officers found responsible are held accountable.

■  Ensure the safety of LGBT individuals while in detention.

These are among an extensive set of recommendations in our report, and we urge all law enforcement agencies and citizen review boards to consider and adopt them with haste. We realize that pledges and programs can easily become empty gestures without the continued vigilance of human rights advocates. For that reason, today Amnesty begins to focus its spotlight on this persistent and shameful situation.

Amnesty International will mobilize our worldwide membership to exert pressure on police and city, state and federal authorities to protect LGBT people from police abuse and misconduct. We will issue public actions on individual cases of police abuse and brutality to ensure that all allegations are fully and impartially investigated and that officers found guilty are brought to justice.

Our spotlight will not dim until the human rights that lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people are guaranteed in law and are also protected in the real world.  Thank you.



Amnesty International website




Recent Articles

September 22: 
USA:  Amnesty Report Reveals Alarming and Widespread Police Mistreatment of Gays in USA.  In the most comprehensive report of its kind to date, Amnesty International (AI) reveals that police mistreatment and abuse of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people is widespread throughout the USA and goes largely unchecked due to underreporting and unclear, under-enforced or non-existent policies and procedures.

Russia:  Gay Russian Wins Employment Discrimination Case in Landmark Ruling - Court Rules Homosexuality Is Not a Mental Disorder.  In what is seen as a “landmark” ruling, a court in St. Petersburg has backed a gay man whose military record said he had a mental disorder, solely on the basis that he was gay.  The man, identified only as “Mr. VP”, had applied to the Russian State Railways for a job as a guard, but was deemed to be unfit for the job because of his “mental disorder”.

September 21: 
Ankara’s Deputy Governor Threatens to Close Down Gay Organisation.  The Deputy Governor of Ankara, Selahattin Ekremoglu, is calling for an LGBT group to be closed down, it emerged today.  Ekremoglu claimed last week that the group operated “against the laws and morality rules” and should be closed down.
Russia:  Poll Shows Majority Support Gay Rights in Russia.  For the first time ever, a clear majority of Russians say that there should be equal rights for gays in the country, a new opinion poll has found.

September 20
Iran:  Iranian Gays Live in Fear This is the full text of the press statement from PGLO (Persian Gays & Lesbians Organisation) received by email received at Outrage! in London.  Amir, a young Iranian homosexual, recently spoke out about the torture he has suffered at the hands of the Iranian authorities.

Iran: Gay Amir, Aged 22, Given 100 Lashes.  The bruised and bloodied body of a 22 year old gay Iranian, Amir, bears further witness to the brutality of the Ayatollah’s regime.  Yet many gay and human rights groups in “the West” are sweeping the matter under the carpet, Outrage! suggests.

USA:  New York’s Famous Gay Pair Call It a Day.  Commentary.  We all know that these days love often fades and couples, whether gay or straight, split up.  News came today via many British newspapers that Roy and Silo, arguably New York City’s most famous gay “item”, have decided to call it a day.

September 16: 
London’s Oxford Street Will Be Gay for EuroPride Next Year.  Two of the world’s most famous – and busiest – streets will be used for next year’s EuroPride Parade being staged in London.  The ‘dream’ of parading down Oxford Street and Regent Street will become a reality.

September 15: 
Russia/Komi Republic: 
Russian Gay Activist Accused of Breach of 1923 Convention Details of the criminal case against Russian gay activist Maxim Lazarev are emerging from the Komi Republic, some 1,500 kilometres north east of Moscow.

September 14: 
UK Civil Partnerships: What Gays Need to Know.  A new publicity campaign to tell gay people what they need to know about same-sex civil partnerships was launched by Deputy Equality Minister Meg Munn at Westminster Register Office today.

September 13:
Researchers Locate Army Document Ordering Commanders Not To Fire Gays.  Scholars in California studying military personnel policy have found a controversial regulation halting the discharge of gay soldiers in units that are about to be mobilized.

September 12: 
Gay Russian Activist On Website Porn Charges.  A gay activist from the Komi Republic in the Russian Federation has been charged with pornography on his non-pornographic website.  And other gay activists in Russia are fearing the start of a wide-ranging clampdown on gay websites and publications.

September 8
Cardiff Millennium Stadium Cancels Gay Concert on Saturday.  Statements from Millennium Stadium and Cardiff Mardi Gras Organisers

Posted: 22  September 2005 at 21:00 UK time