Sexual minorities, including queer and LGBT people, face many obstacles and challenges when navigating the criminal justice system. One especially difficult is the treatment of sex within the legal system. Sex crimes and sex laws have had far-reaching repercussions, and queer people often find themselves affected by them. Rising hysteria around so-called “sex crimes” has led to the invention of a new category of purported villain – the sex offender. In order to keep track of people who have been convicted of a sexual offense, our state and federal governments have created surveillance registries: publicizing one’s photo, address, and conviction record to anyone with an internet connection. These registries are problematic and harmful, exposing registrants to harassment and vigilante violence and making it nearly impossible to find a job or secure housing. Due to rigid residency restrictions, lack of employment or stable shelter, social ostracism, public humiliation, and isolation, registrants are at a high risk of homelessness, unemployment, substance use, and mental illness. These registries that were created to keep children and families safe have become tools of oppression that in truth shatter families and jeopardize public safety.
Queer people are disproportionately affected by sex laws and sex offender registries. Queer people are at risk for being targeted due to homophobic biases in lawmaking and law enforcement and hysteria around queer sex. There is a history of law enforcement entrapping queer people in prostitution busts and gay cruising stings. Queer people are more likely to be targeted for civil commitment. Current sex laws ignore the needs and realities of queer youth, while they seek to criminalize their unique experiences. In jails and prisons queer people are extremely vulnerable, often targeted for sexual and physical abuse. Once on the registry, many queer people feel isolation within the community of registrants and in treatment. Many treatment models are heteronormative and are based on one-size-fits-all assumptions. There is a greater bias against same-gender sex crimes than heterosexual counterparts. Risk assessments are often homophobic and label a queer offender as being of an augmented risk level. “Sex offender” becomes one’s identity as seen through the eyes of a heteronormative and anti-queer society and criminal justice system.
We at The Center for Sexual Justice envision a legal system that is free of hysteria and anti-sex bias, in which queer people and other sexual minorities are not discriminated against based on sexual desire, gender expression, or sexual participation. We see a conscientious and open-minded queer community that engages with issues of criminal justice that respect race, ethnicity, class, ability, and sexual diversity.
We want to engage the queer community in a dialogue around sex offender issues, sex laws, and how queers are affected by them. We want to end discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender expression, and sexual practices in judicial legislation and proceedings. We want to educate the queer community and the public about how families are devastated by sex offender registries and foster empathy for those impacted. We want to organize a community of support for queer registrants, families, friends, and allies in order to lessen the trauma of life on the registry, decrease isolation, and better the lives of everyone affected by them.