Are We Leaving Some People Behind in the Discussion on Mass Incarceration?

Think of someone in your life who identifies as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or queer. Now picture that person being discriminated against simply because of who they are. But it doesn’t end there. Imagine what happens when this prejudice leads to prison confinement, where LGBTQ people experience additional abuse based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. It sounds unreasonable, right?

A recent ACLU article explored this issue—highlighting two transgender women who were persecuted at an Arkansas hotel simply for being trans*. One of the women had an ID that still said male, which lead to a hostile confrontation with police. In the end, she was arrested for simply carrying her hormones. She was arrested for being herself and living authentically.

Unfortunately, this is a reality that many in the LGBTQ community experience.

Mass incarceration is an issue that plagues the United States more than any other country in the world. Our prison system accounts for 22 percent of the world’s prison population; with more than 2 million people currently incarcerated. Thirty-six states have a higher prison population than that of Cuba, a country with the second highest prison population.

With shows like Orange is the New Black, mass incarceration is becoming an increasingly popular topic of discussion. While beginning this conversation is extremely important, the impact that our criminal justice system has on the LGBTQ community is often forgotten.

Bias, prejudice, and profiling of LGBTQ people have led to an increase in incarceration rates. Thirteen to fifteen percent of youth in prison are LGBTQ and 16 percent of transgender adults have been in jail at some point in their life. Prison is a dangerous place in general, so for individuals who do not fall into our country’s typical gender and sexual orientation norms it can be incredibly traumatizing.

During their time in prison, LGBTQ individuals may face daily humiliation, physical and sexual abuse, and many fear reporting these incidents because it could put them further at risk. In federal estimates, individuals who self-identified as “non-heterosexual” were three times more likely to be sexually abused in prison.

Fortunately, others across the country are becoming advocates—working to change this reality and raise awareness about the link between mass incarceration and LGBTQ rights. New national standards, legal developments, and people speaking out are all highlighting the need for change. Cases like that of CeCe McDonald highlight how treatment of LGBTQ individuals in prison often violates their Constitutional rights and other legal standards.

Help change the conversation in our country to include the experiences of those that are most vulnerable within our criminal justice system. Educate yourself and be aware of the facts—together we can help break boundaries.

Brianna Lidke is Pride Foundation’s Communications Intern.


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