Williams Institute report examines LGBTQ people on sex offender registries

A Williams Institute report found that LGBTQ people on sex offender registries were more likely to receive prison sentences than cishet people.

The Williams Institute of UCLA recently published a report on LGBTQ+ people required to register on sex offender registries (SOR) in the U.S., based on a survey of 964 respondents that include LGBTQ and cisgender straight people. 

Among the findings of the report were that LGBTQ people on SOR were more likely to receive prison sentences than cishet people and were more likely to be fired from their job because of their SOR status.

The survey, conducted from March to November, 2020, details the impact of being on SOR and compares the data for LGBTQ people to those of cishet people, including length of prison sentence, loss of employment, violence and harassment, psychological impact and other detrimental effects.

The respondents averaged 51 years of age; 87% of them are white; 20% identify as LGBTQ; and the majority of the respondents were men. The survey included 31 women respondents, 20% of whom are BIPOC women, and 29% of whom identify as LGB. Seven trans people participated in the survey, all of whom were assigned male at birth and none of whom identified as women.  

According to the report’s executive summary, laws that require convicted sexual offenders to register on SOR “have been controversial since their inception.” Although so-called attempts to increase public safety led to the formation and expansion of registration, registries and their associated rules have been scrutinized as being ineffective and too harsh a punishment for the crime. 

Overall, the report showed that 90% of respondents had one sex offense conviction, and 6% were convicted of another sex offense after first registering. Nine percent of LGBTQ respondents had sodomy statutes and 2% had their positive HIV status as part of their offenses. A higher percentage of LGBTQ adults than cishet adults had three or more victims, and an equal percentage of LGBTQ adults and cishet adults had victims younger than 12 years old. 

Over half of the respondents spent time in prison as a result of their convictions, but 65% of LGBTQ respondents spent time in prison compared to 53% of cishet respondents. Of the people who served time in prison or jail, more LGBTQ people than cishet people said they were sentenced to 25 years or longer. 

Most of the respondents said that they lost a job because of their SOR status, and nearly a third were passed up for promotion for the same reason. Of the more than 30% of respondents who changed jobs once or twice in the two years prior to the survey, 27% of cishet people and 39% of LGBTQ people said that they were fired from their jobs because of their registry status. Two thirds of the respondents said they had a hard time finding a place to live that met the distance requirements from schools, bus stops, parks or playgrounds.

A webinar on the results of the survey included anonymous quotes from survey participants. One such quote from a 36-year-old white/hispanic, bisexual trans person reads: “any work I was trained in with technology is now untenable, and the trauma of being in prison as a trans woman, along with horrific treatment on probation and registration, has made functioning in society almost impossible.” 

The majority of survey respondents said that they lost family relationships and friendships due to their SOR status. Roughly half of respondents said they were harassed in person or remotely, and that they couldn’t date or have romantic partners because of their registry status. 

LGBTQ and cishet respondents reported similar frequencies of abuse and violence; 24% of LGBTQ people and 21% of cishet people said they were hit, beaten, attacked or sexually assaulted. Sixty-six percent of respondents said they were verbally insulted or abused, 45% reported being threatened with violence and 37% said they were robbed or experienced vandalism. Ninety percent of respondents said they thought this violence and harassment resulted from their registry status. Twenty-four percent of LGBTQ respondents said that they experienced violence and harrassment because of their sexual identity; 4% cited their gender expression and 1% their HIV status as the cause of their violent experiences. 

Nearly a third of respondents said they were experiencing fair or poor overall health due to being on the registry, with about 40% saying they experienced high instances of psychological turmoil. Just over 70% of respondents reported suicidal ideation throughout their life; 77% of LGBTQ people said they experienced suicidal ideation and 69% percent of cishet people reported the same. A large portion of respondents said that they attempted suicide, including 34% of LGBTQ people and 24% of cishet people having attempted suicide at least once.

Another anonymous quote from the webinar reads: “I want to die so f***ing bad everyday because they took my life from me for losing my virginity during consensual sex.”

The speakers in the webinar include Ilan H. Meyer, distinguished senior scholar of public policy at the Williams Institute; Lara Stemple, assistant dean of Graduate Studies and International Student Programs at UCLA Law and Tryone Hanley, director of Racial and Economic Justice Initiatives at the National Center for Lesbian Rights. 

They presented the survey’s results, provided background information on how the criminalization of LGBTQ bodies and same-sex intimacy leads to disproportionate inclusion of queer and trans people on SOR and shared anonymous quotes from survey participants.  

“Policy makers have used the stereotype of the gay male pedophile, a stereotype that has shown to be false, but has been used to gain support in criminalizing the actions of LGBTQ people,” Meyer said in the webinar. “In recent months, I would say, we’ve seen an even greater use of this language.”

In his presentation, Hanley discussed the likely reversal of Roe v. Wade, and how that sets a precedent for the potential reversal of other laws passed by the Supreme Court, like Lawrence v. Texas, which reversed the criminalization of same-sex intimacy. All three presenters pointed out the overrepresentation of BIPOC people in prisons, and Hanley discussed that when it comes to the criminalization of LGBTQ bodies, Black and Brown queer and trans people tend to be targeted the most. 

“This is a really important intersection of race,” Hanley said in the webinar. “That if we see parts of this country that are moving back to a world in which they’re actively trying to criminalize queer and trans people for our sexuality, that’s going to be queer and trans people of color who are going to bear the brunt of that.”