Transgender women living with HIV in Los Angeles County face an array of unmet legal needs

For Immediate Distribution
Nov. 24, 2015

Lauren Jow,, 310-206-0314

LOS ANGELES — Transgender women living with HIV in Los Angeles County face a variety of legal needs that have a significant impact on their access to resources such as income, health care and housing, but most do not receive any legal assistance, according to a new analysis by researchers at the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law.

When provided a list of needs that could be addressed by legal assistance, all of the transgender women surveyed indicated that they had at least one legal need in the year prior to the survey, but more than two-thirds did not seek legal help. Of those women, one in four did not seek help because they could not afford it.

The study, titled “The Legal Needs of Transgender Women Living with HIV: Evaluating Access to Justice in Los Angeles,” analyzes the responses from transgender participants in a survey of almost 400 people living with HIV in Los Angeles County. Most of the respondents reported being low-income, unemployed and from communities of color. Of those respondents, 9 percent (34 individuals) identified as transgender women, and more than 70 percent of these women identified as Hispanic, Latina or of Spanish origin.

“Perhaps most striking were results regarding victimization,” said Brad Sears, executive director at the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law. “Transgender women were more vulnerable to being harassed, attacked with violence or subjected to other crime, and they were significantly more likely to report being violently attacked than straight cisgender men.”

Key findings from the report include:

• All of the transgender women surveyed reported experiencing an average of six distinct legal needs, of 69 possible legal needs identified by the survey.

• Nearly half (44 percent) of transgender women reported being harassed, attacked with violence, and/or subjected to another crime in the past year. Also, 41 percent of transgender women reported coming into contact with the criminal justice system in the five years prior to the survey.

• Almost all of the transgender women (94 percent) reported not having a testamentary will and/or an advanced health care directive. The other issue areas most frequently identified by respondents included immigration (50 percent), health care access (44 percent), consumer law (41 percent), and criminal law (41 percent).

• Nearly one in four (24 percent) transgender women reported experiencing discrimination in the year prior to the interview, and a third (32 percent) reported experiencing discrimination over a five-year period. This included experiences of discrimination in health care, housing and employment.

• While nearly two-thirds of transgender women reported barriers to seeking legal assistance, among the one-third of transgender women who did seek assistance for their legal needs, all were able to find help.  These findings indicate more research is necessary to understand the role of self-advocacy among some transgender women.

This study was co-authored by Ayako Miyashita, HIV Law & Policy Fellow; Amira Hasenbush, Jim Kepner Law and Policy Fellow; and Brad Sears, Executive Director of the Williams Institute.

Click here for the full report.