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Personal Safety, Criminal Justice Pressing Issues for LGBTQ People of Color

"What's Next for LGBTQ People of Color" panel in Philadelphia on July 28, 2016. Brooke Sopelsa / NBC OUT

LGBTQ people of color took center stage at a panel discussion in Philadelphia on Thursday, the final day of the Democratic National Convention.

While the LGBTQ community has made significant strides over the past several years, for the black and Latino people on the "What's Next for LGBTQ People of Color?" panel and in the audience, personal safety and the criminal justice system are pressing issues. .

"I'm feeling deeply skeptical and underwhelmed about our nation's capacity to protect its most vulnerable citizens, particularly black and brown bodies," panelist Samantha Master said.

Master, a feminist activist and self-described "queer woman," said she wants police officers to "treat crime as a public health solution and not a way to isolate and control poor people." She added that young, queer people of color are particularly at risk of being "pipelined" into the prison system.

In early 2016, a report from the Movement Advancement Project (MAP) revealed alarming statistics about the representation of LGBTQ people in the prison system. In 2011-2012, 7.9 percent of adults in the prison system identified as LGBTQ, more than double the 3.8 percent they're estimated to represent in the general population, according to Gallup. For juveniles, the difference is even more stark: One survey found youth in juvenile detention centers were three times as likely to be LGBTQ than youth in the general population.

And, according to one panelist at Thursday's event, LGBTQ people of color can even be targeted for just witnessing a crime. Michael S. Hinson Jr., Director of Policy and Programs for the Center for Black Equity, described witnessing a shooting a few years back, then being "pummeled" to the ground by police officers when he tried to give them information about the shooter. He said he struggled about whether to come forward with the information for years. When he did, he felt abandoned by the "mainstream" gay community, who he said criticized him afterward.

Hinson and many others on the panel and in the room shared personal stories of feeling "not welcome" by the "mainstream" gay community, whom they described as overwhelmingly white and male. For example, panelists and audience members spoke of dress codes and strict identification rules at local gay clubs that seem designed to keep the black and Latino clientele to a minimum.

Though several people in the room admitted the "mainstream" gay community is coming around to recognizing and supporting the issues of LGBTQ people of color, Joanna Cifredo of the National Center for Transgender Equality said their support has not come soon enough. She expressed frustration about the newfound focus on trans and Latinos following the Orlando attack.

"Now mainstream organizations want to get on the bandwagon, because it's the trendy thing to do ... without any acknowledgement about how our communities have been plagued by violence historically," she said.

Still, there was a current of hope and possibility in the room. The LGBTQ people of color on the panel are all involved in policymaking and advocacy and are deeply committed to getting more people to participate. And as stated by multiple people at the LGBTQ events in Philadelphia this past week, if people in the community aren't "at the table, they're on the menu."

"We need to make sure that more diverse people have participation, especially trans people of color," Hinson concluded.

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