Date of Degree

2-2022

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

Criminal Justice

Advisor

Valli Rajah

Committee Members

Amy Adamczyk

Brian Lawton

Angela Dwyer

Keywords

LGBTQ, policing, social control, social inequality, transgender, social services

Abstract

This qualitative study examines LGBTQIA+ people’s experiences of navigating risk and safety, interacting with law enforcement, and utilizing support services. LGBTQIA+ people experience stigma, social marginalization, and resource access disparities, particularly individuals who visibly transgress gendered norms about appearance and behavior, or whose identities as LGBTQIA+ intersect with other marginalized social categories based in characteristics such as race and socioeconomic status. LGBTQIA+ people also report negative experiences with law enforcement and obstacles to accessing care. These experiences are consistent with the notion that police and other institutional actors maintain social control through the surveillance and targeting of populations seen as deviant or disruptive to norms.

The present study seeks to understand: (1) how LGBTQIA+ people experience encounters with police; (2) how these encounters and their outcomes differ based on individual and contextual factors, (3) LGBTQIA+ people’s help-seeking processes; (4) service providers’ perceptions of LGBTQIA+ people’s relationships to police; and (5) major barriers to accessing support. 42 LGBTQIA+ adults completed in-depth qualitative interviews focusing on presentation and visibility, safety and risk, encounters with police, help-seeking processes, and access to support. Interviews explored contextual, situational, and interactional dynamics that impacted police encounters and help-seeking processes. In addition, 15 service providers working with LGBTQIA+ client populations completed interviews focusing on their clients’ service needs, experiences with police and the legal system, and suggestions for improving service provision.

Findings demonstrated that LGBTQIA+ people engage in constant processes of negotiation about how and when to disclose their identities and consciously employ presentation management strategies to minimize perceived risk. Analysis of police encounters revealed that LGBTQIA+ people overwhelmingly viewed police as threats, and that people who were visibly queer, trans, or gender-nonconforming expected to have their presentations and behaviors scrutinized and to be targeted by police based on their identities. Race, class, and context also impacted experiences of being profiled and/or targeted by police. Other primary concerns included ineffective or delayed response, victim-blaming and secondary victimization, and disproportionate and violent reactions. Due to negative past experiences, LGBTQIA+ people expressed hesitance to call on law enforcement for assistance. Engaging with service providers and other institutions, LGBTQIA+ people experienced pressure to self-discipline, enact normativity, and downplay their queer and trans identities, fearing that they would be penalized or lose access to resources. Attempts to access services often resulted in either direct police involvement or evoked experiences of being policed, leading to future institutional avoidance and reliance on informal community support networks instead. Lastly, interview data revealed areas of service improvement for LGBTQIA+ populations, including increased police accountability, expansion of LGBTQIA-specific resources, and implementation of non-police crisis response and conflict resolution options.

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