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Anti-gay bias revealed in survey on California courts.

Half of lesbian and gay court users in California believe that the courts are not providing fair treatment for lesbians and gay men as a group, according to a recent report by the Judicial Council of California. Individually, though, most lesbian and gay court users believe they were treated the same as everyone else in their encounter with the court.

The report--the result of the first inquiry by a state judiciary into this issue--was prepared by the council's Sexual Orientation Fairness Subcommittee, which surveyed 5,500 court employees and 2,100 gay and lesbian court users. Of those surveyed, 1,525 employees and 1,225 court users responded.

According to the report, 80 percent of lesbian and gay court users said that they personally were treated with respect by those who knew their sexual orientation. However, 56 percent of those respondents said that when sexual orientation was an issue in their contact with the court, they experienced or observed a negative comment or action toward gay men or lesbians, most frequently by a lawyer or a court employee.

About 20 percent of court-employee respondents said they have heard derogatory terms, ridicule, snickering, or jokes about gay men or lesbians in open court, and 48 percent of those who had witnessed this behavior said they took no action in response. Their reasons for not intervening included fear of retaliation, belief that the incident was not serious enough to warrant intervention, or fear of being seen as lesbian or gay themselves.

The survey also revealed that when sexual orientation was an issue in their contact with the court, 29 percent of gay men and lesbians believed that someone else revealed their sexual orientation without their approval, and 25 percent felt forced to state their sexual orientation against their will. Thirty-nine percent believed that their sexual orientation was used to undermine their credibility.

"It was more likely than not that there would be negative consequences for gay people whenever sexual orientation issues arose in court," said Jon Davison, senior counsel at the gay rights advocacy group Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, who worked with the committee that prepared the report. "Clearly, there is much work ahead to make our courts open to all."

In the report, the committee recommended education and outreach programs, policy changes, and further research to address the problems revealed by the survey.

Sexual Orientation Fairness in the California Courts is available online at reports.htm.
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Author:Jurand, Sara Hoffman
Geographic Code:1U9CA
Date:Apr 1, 2001
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