Alex Blaze

A few articles about queer prisoners

Filed By Alex Blaze | July 12, 2010 7:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: incarceration, LGBT, LGBT youth, prison

I have a few items here about LGBT people in prison that remind us what an incredibly socially conservative environment that is and how that makes it more dangerous for LGBT people.

Take, for example, the queer prisoners group Pink and Black's newsletter got rejected from a prison with a message that it was a "Book/Magazine [that] promotes Homosexuality." If a college or a library rejected a book for that reason, we'd never hear the end of it (and only elementary schools and junior highs are still doing that, another incredibly homophobic environment). But a prison? It doesn't get talked about.

It does make you wonder about why some issues get attention from LGBTQ activists and media and others don't. I don't know how many times I've read over this summer that some provision the Obama Administration enacted that appertains to LGBT federal workers affects "no one" or is dismissed with "If you're not a federal worker then this doesn't do jack for you." At the same time, queers who've never been in the military, will never be in the military, and are not in a relationship with someone in the military lose their heads over DADT repeal delays and start using language like "Obama doesn't care about us" or "We are discriminated against in the military."

There are obviously no hard numbers here, but I'd posit that the population of queers in prison is on par with the population of queers in the military. And The Nation recently spelled out why so many LGBTQ youth end up behind bars:

The road to incarceration begins in pretrial detention, before the youth even meets a judge. Laws and professional standards state that it's appropriate to detain a child before trial only if she might run away or harm someone. Yet for queer youth, these standards are frequently ignored. According to UC Santa Cruz researcher Dr. Angela Irvine, LGBT youth are two times more likely than straight youth to land in a prison cell before adjudication for nonviolent offenses like truancy, running away and prostitution. According to Ilona Picou, executive director of Juvenile Regional Services, Inc., in Louisiana, 50 percent of the gay youth picked up for nonviolent offenses in Louisiana in 2009 were sent to jail to await trial, while less than 10 percent of straight kids were. "Once a child is detained, the judge assumes there's a reason you can't go home," says Dr. Marty Beyer, a juvenile justice specialist. "A kid coming into court wearing handcuffs and shackles versus a kid coming in with his parents--it makes a very different impression."

Once adjudicated and sent to secure care, LGBT youth often face abusive peers. "I was scared to sleep at night because I didn't know if I was going to wake up in the morning," writes one incarcerated youth at Louisiana's Swanson Center for Youth. One 15-year-old who was shuttled back and forth from group homes and secure facilities in Shreveport, New Orleans and Baton Rouge reports that staff did nothing when he reported a rape because he "reported it too late," that he was "whipped with a clothes hanger" for rule violations and that the abuse from staff and other youth was so bad that he tried to kill himself. Two of Krystal's gay friends were raped in prison by other youths. One of them was assaulted so viciously that the injuries required internal stitches. Staff put Krystal's other friend in isolation to protect him from further assault.[...]

An LGBT youth's problems with the law frequently begin at home. "LGBT youth are more likely to be arrested than straight youth because they're more likely to be pushed out of their homes," says Dr. Beyer. And "family rejection is a direct pipeline to the juvenile justice system," says San Francisco State University researcher Caitlin Ryan of the Family Acceptance Project. While only 3-10 percent of Americans are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, LGBT youth make up 15 percent of the prison population. Indeed, one-quarter of all LGBT youth are kicked out of their homes or run away. Compared to their heterosexual peers, incarcerated LGBT youth are twice as likely to report abuse at the hands of family members, homelessness or state-ordered foster placement. A shocking estimated 20-40 percent of homeless youth identify as LGBT.

Courts and law enforcement officials often fail to recognize the factors that drive LGBT youth into the system. Of a 16-year-old client who was a runaway, Picou says, "Everybody refused to allow him to be in a group home or foster care home. He was in super-custody like he's a terrorist. Nobody asked him why he ran away or whether he was prostituting to stay alive." And while a toxic home life leads LGBT youth to live on the street, an unwelcoming school system leads many to avoid school altogether, leading to truancy.

The article goes on to describe some of the abuse LGBTQ youth are subject to in prison, including violence, conversion therapy, and solitary confinement that stunts both educational opportunities and social development. The entire thing is worth a read.

Laura Flanders with GritTV discussed the article here:

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a thoroughly depressing but important read:
A report by Amnesty International, Stonewalled: Police Abuse and Misconduct Against Lesbian, Gay and Transgender People in the U.S. , documents serious patterns of police abuse, including incidents amounting to torture and ill-treatment.

Stonewalled is the result of a national study documenting issues and patterns of police abuse and misconduct against LGBT people as well as individual incidents. The report also highlights four cities - Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City, and San Antonio, where the impact of policing policies and practices on LGBT communities are studied in greater depth.

download the entire report here


AI's research has revealed that law enforcement officers profile LGBT individuals, in particular gender variant individuals and LGBT individuals of color, as criminal in a number of different contexts, and selectively enforce laws relating to "morals regulations," bars and social gatherings, demonstrations and "quality of life." AI's findings indicate that race continues to be a motivating factor in presumptions of criminality, and that racism compounds the homophobic and transphobic treatment of LGBT people of color by police.

Reports to AI indicate that sexual, physical and verbal abuse frequently occur together. Sexual and physical abuse by law enforcement against LGBT individuals are often accompanied by homophobic and transphobic slurs. In addition, verbal abuse against individuals perceived to be LGBT is often sexualized, in particular toward lesbians and transgender individuals.

AI has received reports of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of LGBT individuals during arrest, searches and detention in police precinct holding cells.

AI is concerned that U.S. authorities are failing to act with due diligence to prevent and investigate crimes against LGBT people. Reports to AI indicate a pattern of police failing to respond or responding inappropriately to "hate crimes," domestic violence and other crimes against LGBT individuals, particularly crimes against LGBT individuals of color, immigrants and other marginalized individuals.

The report's findings strongly indicate that police abuse and the forms it takes often are specific to different aspects of the victim's identity, such as sexual orientation, race, gender, or gender identity, age or economic status. Stonewalled highlights the treatment of LGBT individuals in the hands of police within the larger framework of identity-based discrimination, and demonstrates how the interplay between different forms of discrimination - racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia - make certain populations within the LGBT community more likely to be targeted for abuse.

the prisoner correspondence project (based in montreal) does a lot of great work on queer/trans incarceration issues.