Summary and Keywords
Law enforcement has a lengthy history of policing LGBTQ communities. Throughout the 20th century, police utilized laws prohibiting same-sex sexual conduct to criminalize LGBTQ individuals, and to target public gathering places including gay bars. Sodomy prohibitions were supplemented by mental health diagnoses including assumptions about criminal pathologies among LGBTQ individuals and the government’s fear that LGBTQ individuals’ sexual perversions made them a national security risk to subject LGBTQ communities to extensive policing based on their alleged sexual deviance. The successes of the gay rights movement led the American Psychiatric Association to declassify homosexuality as a mental health disorder in the 1970s, and the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision that prohibitions on sodomy run afoul of the Constitution ended the de jure criminalization of LGBTQ individuals based on their sexual conduct.
Today, policing of LGBTQ communities consists of both overpolicing and underenforcement. Law enforcement regularly profiles some facets of LGBTQ communities in order to selectively enforce general criminal prohibitions on public lewdness, solicitation, loitering, and vagrancy—consistent with the goals of “quality of life” policing—on gay men, transwomen, and LGBTQ youth, respectively. The selective enforcement of these laws often targets LGBTQ people of color and other intersectionally identified LGBTQ individuals in order to criminalize their existence based on ongoing stereotypes about sexual deviancy. In addition, police regularly fail to recognize LGBTQ individuals as victims of crimes, with the exception of particularly heinous hate crimes, and do not adequately attend to their needs and/or subject them to secondary victimization. As such, the relationship between many LGBTQ communities and law enforcement continues to be characterized by antagonisms and mistrust.
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