Walking While Trans: Profiling of Transgender Women by Law Enforcement, and the Problem of Proof

36 Pages Posted: 12 Feb 2018 Last revised: 6 Mar 2018

See all articles by Leonore Carpenter

Leonore Carpenter

Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law

R Barrett Marshall

Philadelphia VIP

Date Written: February 12, 2018


This Article discusses law enforcement profiling of transgender women as sex workers, a phenomenon so pervasive that it has earned its own nickname, “walking while trans.” The term “walking while trans” is both a nod to the racial profiling term “driving while Black” and a descriptor of the circumstances under which many transgender women find themselves subjected to intrusive and often harassing police stops and interrogations. In other words, in the experience of the transgender community, one need only be a transgender woman and exist in a public space to create in the minds of law enforcement officers the assumption that one is currently engaged in sex work, and thus a person who ought to be subjected to unwanted police contact.

The Article describes the significant anecdotal evidence available to demonstrate the existence of widespread police profiling of transgender women. The Article explores the wide variety of harms caused to this vulnerable community by the profiling activity captured by the phrase “walking while trans.” It then notes the potential benefit to transgender women if advocates could more conclusively demonstrate the prevalence of this phenomenon using aggregated, law enforcement-generated data. The authors then go on to explain that such data is currently extremely difficult to obtain, due to the fact that law enforcement data collection does not usually include information on gender beyond the traditional male/female binary. The authors make a preliminary suggestion for addressing this quandary, understanding that far more discussion and study is needed.

While scholarship regarding the LGBT rights movement has explored a number of ways in which gender variant communities intersect with the law, there has been very little discussion in legal scholarship of the specific problem of police profiling of transgender women. The authors hope that readers will view this Article as a starting point in the development of a more robust body of literature on this issue. They also hope that this work contributes to the existing body of scholarship on broader issues, such as the law’s role in constituting personal identity.

Keywords: transgender, LGBT, law enforcement, profiling, gender

JEL Classification: K42

Suggested Citation

Carpenter, Leonore and Marshall, R Barrett, Walking While Trans: Profiling of Transgender Women by Law Enforcement, and the Problem of Proof (February 12, 2018). William & Mary Journal of Women and the Law, Vol. 24, No. 1, 2017, Temple University Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2018-07, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3122565

Leonore Carpenter (Contact Author)

Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law ( email )

1719 N. Broad Street
Philadelphia, PA 19122
United States
215-204-4977 (Phone)

R Barrett Marshall

Philadelphia VIP ( email )

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