By Richard Burns, for Filter Magazine

When we think of the criminalization of the LGBTQ+ community, our minds likely veer to the Stonewall Riots of 1969. But to see that as the whole picture is to erase the struggles that have continued to plague our community over the last half century. Across the country, LGBTQ+ people have faced and still face discrimination and criminalization for our sexual orientation, taking on many forms, with one of the most common being drug arrests.

As we have seen with other minority groups, as laws were created to protect LGBTQ+ people from overt discrimination, and engaging in sexual acts with someone of the same gender was no longer a crime, law enforcement found new ways, such as drug possession, to replicate age-old practices of bias, abuse and profiling. Law enforcement didn’t even have to change locations in most cases⁠: The same places, such as gay bars, that were already under surveillance became easy targets for drug arrests.

Because of early childhood trauma—many times including rejection from their families of origin and even their homes, experiences of aggression and violence, and other stress associated with being part of a marginalized group—LGBTQ+ people are more likely to experience mental health issues, substance use issues and homelessness. With an absence of available resources and historically even less family support, LGBTQ+ people are often denied the care and support they need to handle these challenges.

These factors, combined with widespread employment discrimination, mean that in many cases, LGBTQ+ people—especially trans women of color—need to participate in survival economies just to meet the most basic needs that others take for granted.