Prisons can be harsh and traumatizing places for people who are lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender or queer (LGBTQ). These inmates may be targeted for more verbal, physical and even sexual abuse than those in the general population who are straight or conform to gender norms. While the justice system strives to play catch-up to provide stronger protections and tools for dealing with transgender prisoners — for example, the Prison Rape Elimination Act includes specific provisions to protect transgender inmates — it has a long way to go. It is not uncommon for transgender prisoners to end up spending long stretches in solitary, ostensibly punishing them for their own protection.
Some prisons have sensitive needs yards (SNY) available, whereby entire yards have been converted to protective custody areas for prisoners at high risk of being targeted — including homosexuals, gang dropouts, sex offenders, informants, high-profile inmates, and transgender people whose lives could be endangered in the general population. Inmates living in SNY share their cells with other at-risk cellmates and have the same recreation and meal routines.
Transgender inmates may also have unique healthcare needs such as hormone therapy and other medications that need ongoing monitoring. If these needs are not being met, prisoners need to file for an administrative remedy to demand change.
The unfortunate fact is LGBTQ prisoners will face additional stress and pressure in the prison environment.
Here are some prison survival tips for LGBTQ inmates:
Try to fly under the radar and not bring attention to yourself. Grinning and bearing it is good advice for any prisoner. The more vocal and combative you are, the harder it will be for you.
If you fear for your life, approach staff and state this without naming names. You may also request to be placed in protective custody, but be aware you could be there for awhile while your case is reviewed.
Form alliances with people like you and those that are accepting of LGBTQ. This way, you’ve got people that have your back, or join an existing car or group. Cars are a fact of life in prison, and if you don’t belong to one, you’re usually left an outcast with little protection.
Walk purposefully and carry yourself confidently, even if it’s not what you feel inside. Give off an air of someone who is not easily messed with. Avoid prolonged eye contact with others, and mind your own business.
If someone offers you protection, be wary. You’ll usually be expected to pay for it in some way, often with sexual favors or muling contraband. Even worse, some inmates have been known to offer protection in an effort to determine who’s weak. This way they can extort the purported protector.
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