Creating Change 2011

Sodomy to Fare Evasion: Evolving LGBT Criminal Defense and Health Effects


 

 

Emilia Dunham, Network Program Associate

by Emilia Dunham

 

Program Associate, Reporting from Creating Change on “Beyond Lawrence V. Texas”

Sodomy: you may know it’s been decriminalized for the past 8 years, but across the country many LGBT people are still unnecessarily criminalized. Though it’s not technically a crime to be LGBT, LGBT people are disproportionately affected by random offenses like loitering and prostitution (real or perceived). Frankly it was humbling to realize how easy it was someone’s life to be completely ruined by reasons nearly out of their control, how privileged I am, and how many of us no idea how many issues affect our whole community.

You might not be surprised that laws in Louisianna are particularly bias against LGBT people (40% of all cases). The laws are so asinine and extreme that two charges of prostitution could land you on the sex offender list for life! With the offense you have to send postcards to pretty much everyone imaginable. The worst part is that they put a huge orange stamp on your ID so that everyone who sees it knows you are on the sex offender list. Can you imagine how terrible that would make your life?

You’d think New York City would be better, but unfortunately in some precints, 100% of all loitering offenses involve LGBT people. Even fare evasion charges are largely against LGBTQ poor people. NY laws also enforce that trying to talk with strangers, loitering and even carrying condoms indicate an intent to prostitute which is enough to be arrested. As a result, many sex workers and homeless LGBTQ refuse to take condoms despite understanding of health concerns.

So what does this have to do with health? Folks who are dispropriately targetted by these crimes have a very difficult time accessing health insurance through any sort of public aid because of their charges. Additionally, it’s incredibly difficult and often impossible to clear their records, placing a barrier to jobs with health insurance. Thus, when we think about health disparities in our communities and issues of access to care, we should be thinking of  the broader picture. We should do more to include those communities that are most affected by this profiling in our public health research, advocacy, work: low-socio-economic, trans women, feminine gay men and gender non-conforming people. Clearly when folks are refusing to carry condoms because of policy, we should be focusing on deeper avenues of public health work.

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