LGBTQ People on Sex Offender Registries in the US

May 2022

Using data from a survey of 964 people on U.S. sex offender registries, researchers examined the demographics and socioeconomic conditions of people on registries, their experiences with the legal criminal process, and the impact of sex offender registration. This is the first study to compare LGBTQ and straight cisgender people on sex offender registries.

LGBTQ people on sex offender registries were more likely than non-LGBTQ people to receive long prison sentences.
Most people had lost a job due to being on the registry, and almost a third were denied a promotion.
More than two-thirds of respondents said they had difficulties finding a place to live that fits registry requirements.
Data Points
LGBTQ people convicted of sex offenses had been incarcerated in a prison
of non-LGBTQ people were

Executive Summary

Laws requiring registration of individuals convicted of sexual offenses have been controversial since their inception. Although offender management practices have been part of U.S. history for many decades, legislation has expanded the use and accessibility of sex offender registries across the country in recent decades, especially after some notorious cases of child abduction, sexual abuse, and homicide. Registration in general, and the expansion of registration and public notice in particular, arose from a purported attempt to increase safety by informing the public when people convicted of sex offenses live in the community. Yet registries, and the many rules and regulations that apply to registrants, have been criticized as hyper-punitive and largely ineffective. 

The United States has the world’s largest prison population. Overall, mass incarceration disproportionately impacts people of color, people with disabilities, and the LGBTQ community. LGBTQ people are at increased risk for being targeted for sex crimes, as historical prejudice and stigma have depicted LGBTQ people—especially gay/bisexual men—as sexual predators. Despite this, little is known about LGBTQ people on sex offender registries in the United States. 

In this project, we surveyed people who are required to register on sex offender registries (SOR). To date, there are no data on LGBTQ people on SOR. We conducted a national survey that was self-administered, anonymous, and completed online. One purpose of the survey was to identify people who are LGBTQ and straight/cisgender on U.S. SOR. In addition to general demographics, the survey included questions about the following: (a) the offenses that led to registration (what kinds of crimes); (b) the legal criminal process (went to trial vs. settled, served time in jail/prison, how long, etc.); (c) life on the registry, including what kinds of conditions the person must abide by; (d) the impact of registries, referred to in the literature as “collateral consequences,” including experiences of discrimination, violence, housing instability, and unemployment; and (e) mental health, physical health, and socioeconomic conditions (poverty, homelessness). Data were obtained through the SORS survey between 3/12/2020 and 11/29/2020. 

Respondents also had a chance to write short narratives in response to some survey questions. Excerpts from narratives by LGBTQ respondents are included throughout the report. 


My husband lives out of state, I cannot live with them, fear living in a halfway house because I am trans, and no apartment will take me because of my record, so I live in an extended stay hotel that costs almost as much as the mortgage on my husband’s home.
36-year-old, White/Hispanic, bisexual, transgender person 

I have two advanced graduate degrees that I am no longer able to use because of my status. In addition, I have applied for over 900 jobs and when the background check is completed, I am turned down or rejected for the position. @ best I can only find entry level positions that pay minimum wage with no benefits.”
65-year-old, White, gay man 


The report provides data on 964 respondents, with data presented for LGBTQ and straight cisgender individuals. Because of this, specific results for other groups, especially women and people of color, may become hidden due to aggregation of data where most respondents are men and White. In subsequent publications, we will focus on women and transgender persons and on racial/ethnic differences.


The average age among respondents was 51; 87% were White; and 20% identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer/pansexual, and/or transgender (LGBTQ). Most respondents were men, with fewer LGBTQ respondents identifying as a man than straight cisgender respondents (92% vs. 97%); 0.7% of all respondents identified as transgender.

Interactions with the Criminal Justice System

  • Almost all (90%) of the respondents had one sex offense conviction; 6% had an additional sex offense conviction following the first incident for which they were required to register. These estimates did not differ between LGBTQ and straight cisgender respondents. Nine percent of LGBTQ respondents had sodomy statutes included in their offense and 2% had a positive HIV diagnosis included in their offense as aggravating factors.
  • Compared with straight cisgender adults, more LGBTQ adults had three or more victims (9% vs. 17%), and almost half of LGBTQ adults had victims that were an image, compared with less than one-quarter of straight cisgender adults. More straight cisgender adults had victims who were family members compared to LGBTQ adults (39% vs. 24%). One-third of both LGBTQ and straight cisgender adults had a victim who was under the age of 12.
  • Respondents were asked about their interactions with the criminal justice system. Less than 10% of respondents had gone to trial: most respondents pleaded guilty or no contest, and about one-third were convicted of a reduced offense.
  • More than half of respondents had been incarcerated in prison for their sex offense conviction, with more LGBTQ than straight cisgender adults incarcerated in prison (65% vs. 53%). Among those who had served prison or jail sentences, more LGBTQ than straight cisgender people reported sentences of 25 years or more (5% vs. 1.6%).

Note: Bolded values indicate notable differences between LGBTQ and straight cisgender adults 

  • Respondents were asked if, when they were ordered to register, they were told how many years they would have to stay on the registry. About a third said they were not told how long they would be required to register. In fact, the majority (45%) were required to register for 25 years or more, and very few (5%) were required to register for less than 10 years. Most respondents were required to register in one jurisdiction, but about 30% were required to register in two or more jurisdictions. About 8% had been removed from the registry by the time they responded to the survey.
  • Close to 80% of respondents received medical or psychological treatment related to their sex offense (sometimes referred to as “corrective treatment”), including 83% of LGBTQ people and 76% of straight cisgender people. For 86% of people, this treatment was mandated by a court, judge, or parole/probation officer. LGBTQ people were more likely than straight cisgender people to have received treatment while incarcerated (39% vs. 27%).
  • 10% of LGBTQ people and 3% of straight cisgender people reported that their treatment included elements of sexual orientation or gender identity change effort (conversion therapy). 

Collateral Consequences of Being on the Registry 

Barriers to employment and housing and vigilante violence, harassment, and discrimination due to both registry restrictions and stigma are among the collateral consequences experienced by people required to register.

  • Most people (56%) reported that they lost a job due to being on the registry, and almost a third were denied a promotion for this reason. Also, more than 30% of the people said they changed jobs once or twice in the two years prior to the survey. Among them, 27% of straight cisgender respondents and 39% of LGBTQ respondents reported that they were terminated from their job due to being on the registry, and about 20% of respondents changed jobs because they were harassed.
  • Two-thirds said they had difficulty finding a place to live that was not too close to a school, bus stop, park, or playground. Among the 30% of respondents who had moved at least once in the two years prior to taking the survey, the most common reasons for moving were related to legal restrictions, financial reasons due to the registry, and other difficulties related to the registry, such as harassment.
  • Most respondents reported that they had been denied contact with family members and had lost a friendship. Approximately half of respondents reported being harassed in person or via media and said that they were unable to date or have intimate partners.
  • Since being on the registry, LGBTQ and straight cisgender respondents experienced similar rates of abuse and violence for the most part, with 21% of straight cisgender and 24% of LGBTQ respondents having been hit, beaten, physically attacked, or sexually assaulted. Many respondents reported being verbally insulted or abused (66%), threatened with violence (45%), or robbed or vandalized (37%).
  • Asked about the reason for their experiences of violence and harassment, almost all (90%) of the respondents believed it was due to their being on the registry. LGBTQ respondents also said that violence and harassment were due to their sexual identity (24%), gender expression or appearance (4%), or HIV status (1%). 
  • Respondents also reported the impact the registration had on their families. One in 3 respondents reported that a family member had been verbally assaulted, and 1 in 10 reported that a family member had been robbed or had had property stolen or purposely damaged. 

Mental Health Status 

At the time of the survey, almost one-third of respondents reported fair or poor general health, and about 40% were experiencing high psychological distress. Lifetime suicidal ideation was highly prevalent (71%), with somewhat more LGBTQ than straight cisgender people reporting suicidal ideation over their lifetime (77% vs. 69%, respectively). Suicide attempts were also highly prevalent among respondents, with about 34% of LGBTQ people and 24% of straight cisgender individuals reporting at least one suicide attempt in their lifetime. 

Note: Bolded values indicate notable differences between LGBTQ and straight cisgender respondents. 

LGBTQ People on Sex Offender Registries in the US