From policing to sentencing to incarceration, LGBTQ people—especially those who are poor, black, and brown—are systematically targeted and then, once locked up, subjected to "constant violence by both prison staff and other prisoners," a harrowing new study reveals.
Coming Out of Concrete Closets, released Friday by the LGBTQ prison abolition organization Black and Pink, is based on 1,118 prisoners' hand-written responses to a 133-question survey that was designed with the participation of incarcerated people. Researchers say the findings of the study, the largest-ever survey of this population, indict the U.S. prison system as a whole.
"The prison industrial complex is a tool of racial control to marginalize and contain people of color," Rev. Jason Lydon, national director of Black and Pink and lead author of the report, told Common Dreams. "It is also a tool of homophobia and transphobia."
A stunning 85 percent of respondents reported spending time in solitary confinement at some point, with half reporting two or more years there. Black, Latino, mixed-race, and Native American respondents were two times as likely to have been in solitary confinement than white respondents. In many cases, prisons employ euphemisms such as "protective custody" to justify such policies.
However, the targeting starts long before—in the streets. Nearly a fifth of respondents reported being homeless before being locked up and over a third said they were unemployed. Fifty-eight percent of respondents said they were arrested when they were younger than 18 years old, and that ratio jumped to 66 percent among Black and Latino populations.
Once in the court system, LGBTQ people report high levels of inequitable treatment, with over half of transgender women and nonbinary gendered people saying they faced discrimination from their defense attorneys. Half of Native American respondents, and more than 40 percent of Latino and mixed-race respondents, reported race- or ethnicity-based discrimination from their lawyers.
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In prison, respondents were more than six times more likely to be assaulted than the general population. "Prisoners are over three times more likely to have committed sexual assaults on LGBTQ prisoners than prison staff," the report states. "However, of those who report having been sexually assaulted by a prisoner, 76% also report that prison staff intentionally placed them in situations where they would be at high risk of sexually assault from another prisoner."
"I was placed in solitary after being raped," said one unnamed respondent, and "only released after it drove me to a suicide attempt."
"I was raped BADLY cuz Trans, scared of being hurt cuz of how feminine I am and I was 18 years old," said another.
"As someone who took this survey on the inside, and as someone who has been through sexual assault, this report is very, very important," Ashley Diamond, recently paroled in Georgia, told Common Dreams. Diamond, who is transgender, attracted national media attention when she sued the state of Georgia last month for placing her in a men's prison and subjecting her to abuse.
LGBTQ prisoners also reported denial of access to healthcare, with 44 percent of transgender, nonbinary gender, and Two-Spirit respondents saying they were denied the hormone therapy they requested.
The report urges a litany of reforms to immediately reduce harm, including holding prison staff accountable and facilitating the release of prisoners at their first parole eligibility date. But ultimately, it calls for a reimagining of justice: "Rather than respond to social problems by simply locking people up, new practices for accountability must be instituted that do not rely on incarceration or carceral practices."