The Nation: LGBT Youth Face Violence Behind Bars

Jim Burroway

July 12th, 2010

Kids screw up. But in some cases, they’re thrown into situations that very few mature adults can handle effectively, let alone adolescents. Sometimes those situations mean they land in our juvenile justice systemm which is intended to both punish and rehabilitate youths who break the law. But as in adult prisons, juvenile detentions centers are also very violent and dangerous places, particularly for those who happen to be gay or transgender:

“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.

Krystal [a transgender woman who identified as a male when she entered Louisiana’s system at the age of twelve] reports that she was physically attacked by other youth nearly every day that she was in the system. Shortly after arriving, Krystal found her shoes in the trash, covered in urine and spit. Frequently, youths attacked Krystal for refusing to perform sex acts. Other queer youth in the facility had similar experiences. “We’re all in the same category,” she says. And there was nowhere to hide. “It was basically like a big dorm—one big room where everybody sleeps, that’s what’s going on,” Krystal says. “Sometimes you would get sent to lockdown for fighting back, but there’s nothing else you can do.” Krystal reported the abuse to staff, but “they would just wait till things happened. Sometimes the staff would tell the other youth to stop. Sometimes they wouldn’t.”

Daniel Redman, who wrote this story in last months’s The Nation, is a Law Project Fellow for the National Center for Lesbian Rights. He reports that according to U.S justice department statistics, LGBT youth are twelve times more likely to be sexually assaulted by fellow inmates than straight youth. To compound the problem, many of these LGBT youths turned to crime to support themselves after they were kicked out of their homes for being gay or transgender. Redman uncovered some more statistics:

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.

Redman also discovered that the ex-gay movement has a hand in this. Given the tragedies behind this, my only complaint is that his report is too short. I hope Redman will be able to find an editorial outlet that will allow him to expand on what he learned.

This is an issue that too few LGBT advocates have been willing to touch. Advocating for LGBT youth in prison, I guess, leads one to be exposed to the charge of being soft on crime. Standing up for these kids can be touchy, unfortunately. Yet who can deny that this story illustrates the worst consequences of homophobic violence and rejection, often beginning in the very homes of these youth?

Timothy Kincaid

July 12th, 2010

Advocating for LGBT youth in prison, I guess, leads one to be exposed to the charge of being soft on crime.

Yes, true. But also, advocating for youth at all has been touchy for many gay activists. Unscrupulous anti-gay activists immediately suggest pedophilia as a motivation and try and twist the story to one in which the advocate is actually a predator on at-risk youth.

Ben Mathis

July 12th, 2010

The US prison system is the most broken in the world and this is just one more depressing aspect. The US has 760 out of every 100,000 citizens in prison, higher than any other nation. (for comparison, Germany has 150 per 100k). The US is also the only country in the world that imprisons juveniles with no chance of parole, currently there are over 2,500 of these, and zero in any other country because it’s barbaric.

If it’s any wonder with a race to privatize prisons for profit, rent them out to pick cotton or clean up toxic oil spills in the gulf for way less than minimum wage, allow crooked judges to accept bribes to imprison children who then get only slaps on the wrist, incredibly one-sided racial biases toward locking up non whites, that we also have horrible problems with the treatment of LGBT youth, I’ve got a bridge to sell you.

Ben Mathis

July 12th, 2010

Also there are over 200 rapes every day in the US prison system, and though it’s mentioned in the OP that prison is for “rehabilitation” I don’t think anyone with two brain cells to rub together thinks that happens in the overcrowded torture machine that is the US prison system.

Dan L

July 12th, 2010

Does anyone know where those statistics come from? That one-quarter of all LGBT youth get kicked out of their homes or run away seems awfully high to me. Though I could probably believe it if it were changed around–that one quarter of all youth who get kicked out of their home or run away are LGBT. It just seems really odd that he doesn’t cite any sources for those.

Jim Burroway

July 12th, 2010

Dan L.

Excellent question, and a very pertinent one for fact checking. It’s possible he didn’t cite a source due to space limitations. Magazines often have strict word count limitations. But it’s definitely worth looking into. I’ll see what I can find out.

John Doucette

July 13th, 2010

Heaven forbid that one be thought to be soft on crime. Much better that we are the most violent, crime-prone country in the world.

Priya Lynn

July 13th, 2010

Ben said “The US has 760 out of every 100,000 citizens in prison, higher than any other nation.”.

The last I heard it was 1000 out of 100,000 or 1% of U.S. citizens are incarcerated.

Priya Lynn

July 13th, 2010


July 13th, 2010

Which reminds me of my sister. My nephew is only 11 years old and she stricly forbids him from watching any shows or movies showing any amount of sexuality.

Yet, he can watch shows, movies and play video games that contain some of the most horrific crimes, gore and blood and that’s OK.

I’m sure my sister’s method of child rearing is not isolated. What kind of message must this be sending into kids heads?

Nelson blane

July 13th, 2010

I helped a gay youth who came out to his mom a few years ago. He was 14 or 15 years old. When he told his mon he was gay his mom said, “I hope you go to prison and get raped” before kicking her son out of his home.
The nephew, of a friend of mine, was in his first year of college when two men beat him to death because he was gay and threw his body into a dumpster. The men were caught and showed little remorse for killing the young man. When asked why they threw him into a dumpster they replied, “That’s where trash belongs”.
For an interesting read do a search on those incarcerated for crimes against gays and note the high percent of those who show little remorse because they felt homosexuality was immoral, against nature and condemned by God [and thus they felt justified by their actions].

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