Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Art by David F. on the left, art by Patrick H. F. on the right. Both are incarcerated members of Black and Pink, which provided the images.

Art by David F. on the left, art by Patrick H. F. on the right. Both are incarcerated members of Black and Pink, which provided the images.

From Streets to Cells, Harrowing Violence Inflicted on LGBTQ Prisoners

New report finds LGBTQ people—especially those who are brown, black, or poor—are disproportionately targeted by incarceration and violence

Sarah Lazare

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.

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."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

'Infuriating Disappointment': Biden DHS Ramping Up Deportations to Haiti

"It is unconscionable for the Biden administration to resume deportation flights to Haiti, despite the country's ongoing political, economic, and environmental disasters."

Jessica Corbett ·


Architect of Texas Abortion Ban Takes Aim at LGBTQ+ Rights While Urging Reversal of Roe

"Make no mistake, the goal is to force extreme, outdated, religious-driven values on all of us through the courts."

Jessica Corbett ·


Ahead of Canadian Election, Bernie Sanders and Rashida Tlaib Endorse NDP

"Bernie, you have fought courageously for public healthcare, affordable medication, making the rich pay their fair share, and tackling the climate crisis," said party leader Jagmeet Singh. "We're doing the same here."

Jessica Corbett ·


US Urged to End Drone Strikes After Pentagon Says Killing 10 Afghan Civilians Was 'Horrible Mistake'

"That was not a 'mistake,'" said journalist Anand Giridharadas. "War crimes are not oopsies."

Brett Wilkins ·


40+ NYC Activists Arrested for Protests Against Banks Fueling Climate Emergency

"We're sending a message loud and clear that the little action that politicians and greenwashing CEOs have taken so far does not begin to deal with the magnitude of this crisis."

Jessica Corbett ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo