The Prison Industrial Complex vs. the Queer and Trans Community

via Dissenting Leftist “The Prison Industrial Complex vs. the Queer and Trans Community”

 Jane Marquardt is a major figure in Utah’s LGBTQ community.  In 2010 she and her partner Tami jointly received Equality Utah’s Allies for Equality Award.  Jane now sits on the advisory council for Equality Utah.  Yet in addition to their work within the LGBTQ community, the Marquardts profit off of mass incarceration.   You see, Jane Marquardt is the Board Vice Chair for Management and Training Corporation, and served as a director and legal counsel for the company between 1980 and 1999. Management and Training Corporation is the third largest private prison profiteering company in the United States.   In addition to incarcerating convicted criminals, MTC receives federal contracts to operate immigration detention centers.  In order to guarantee continued profit off of those contracts, MTC has pushed anti-immigrant legislation by backing Arizona’s Russell Pearce, the sponsor of the infamous SB 1070. 
In profiting off of incarceration and backing anti-immigrant politicians, Marquardt puts herself not only on the wrong side of immigration and criminal justice, but also on the wrong side of human rights abuses against the LGBTQ community.  Discrimination against the queer and trans community puts us at higher risk of being locked away in prisons and immigration detention centers.  And once queer and trans people are locked up, they face a litany of human rights abuses.

Criminalizing Our Communities

Some communities are more likely to have their members incarcerated than others.  The racial and class biases that plague our criminal justice system and our immigration enforcement system are well documented and will not be discussed much here.   Instead, I want to discuss the policies which criminalize the queer and trans communities, making us more likely to be housed in prisons and detention centers, including those operated by the Management and Training Corporation.

The first major factor that marginalizes and criminalizes members of our community is homelessness. According to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, “Of the estimated 1.6 million homeless American youth, between 20 and 40 percent identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT).” The task force also reports that “26 percent of gay teens who came out to their parents/guardians were told they must leave home; LGBT youth also leave home due to physical, sexual and emotional abuse.”  In addition to being more likely to participate in criminalized activities like drug use and sex work, homeless LGBTQ youth face the many criminal sanctions which explicitly target the homeless.  According to a 2009 report by The National Coalition for the Homeless:

Even though most cities do not provide enough affordable housing, shelter space, and food to meet the need, many cities use the criminal justice system to punish people living on the street for doing things that they need to do to survive.  Such measures often prohibit activities such as sleeping/camping, eating, sitting, and/or begging in public spaces and include criminal penalties for violation of these laws.  Some cities have even enacted food sharing restrictions that punish groups and individuals for serving homeless people.  Many of these measures appear to have the purpose of moving homeless people out of sight, or even out of a given city.

This criminalization of homelessness is not limited to cities conventionally seen as conservative.  To the contrary, the same 2009 report ranked both liberal Berkeley and the famously queer friendly San Francisco among their “10 Meanest Cities” for criminalizing homelessness.  These criminal sanctions put queer and trans homeless youth at increased risk of eventual incarceration.

Beyond the specific issue of youth homelessness, a variety of factors contribute to structural poverty for certain segments of the LGBTQ community.  Queer and transgender people face discrimination inhousing and employment.  Furthermore, many face educational barriers, due to harassment and bullying in school, or even an inability for transgender people to apply to schools due to discrepancies in their IDs.  This graphic from the Sylvia Rivera Law Project is useful for explaining the interlocking discrimination that can trap many people in poverty, particularly as it applies to the trans community.

Once one is trapped in poverty, one is exposed to profiling and disproportionate police presence in poor communities.  One is also more likely to be subject to the criminal laws which target the homeless.  Furthermore, members of the transgender community can face criminal charges simply for living in accordance with their gender identity.   For example, they can be arrested for using the “wrong” bathroom, due to suspicious discrepancies in their ID, and even on trumped up charges of solicitation.  This flow chart from the Sylvia Rivera Law Project explains the phenomenon well.

The combination of employment discrimination and criminalization particularly impacts queer and trans immigrants.  In America’slabyrinthine legal immigration system, finding skilled employment is one of the few paths to legal immigration status.  When that is closed off by discrimination, one is far more likely to be an undocumented immigrant.  This difficulty is compounded by the structural poverty and criminalization already discussed here, as once an undocumented immigrant is picked up by police, they are likely to be sent to a detention center and eventually deported.

In addition to the risk factors detailed here, evidence from the juvenile justice system demonstrates that once arrested, LGBTQ youth are more likely to be placed in pre-trial detention.  According to an article in The Nation:

The road to incarceration begins in pretrial detention, before the youth even meets a judge. Laws and professional standards state that it’s appropriate to detain a child before trial only if she might run away or harm someone. Yet for queer youth, these standards are frequently ignored. According to UC Santa Cruz researcher Dr. Angela Irvine, LGBT youth are two times more likely than straight youth to land in a prison cell before adjudication for nonviolent offenses like truancy, running away and prostitution. According to Ilona Picou, executive director of Juvenile Regional Services, Inc., in Louisiana, 50 percent of the gay youth picked up for nonviolent offenses in Louisiana in 2009 were sent to jail to await trial, while less than 10 percent of straight kids were. “Once a child is detained, the judge assumes there’s a reason you can’t go home,” says Dr. Marty Beyer, a juvenile justice specialist. “A kid coming into court wearing handcuffs and shackles versus a kid coming in with his parents—it makes a very different impression.”

This initial bias makes it clear that queer and trans youth are disproportionately locked up in this country, even before they are given a trial.

The Brutality Within (Trigger warning for rape, misgendering, and bigoted violence)

To explain the brutal human rights violations faced by queer and trans inmates and immigration detainees, I will begin with the storyof Tanya Guzman-Martinez.   Guzman-Martinez, a transgender woman, faced a horrific litany of abuses, including sexual assault, while she was held in Arizona’s Eloy Detention Center, an immigration detention center run by the prison profiteers at Corrections Corporation of America.  In a classic case of the misgendering systematic in our prison system, Guzman-Martinez was housed with male inmates despite the fact that she had “surgically altered her breasts, buttocks, hips, and legs to appear more feminine.”  According to a lawsuit filed recently by the ACLU,  she was harassed and assaulted by inmates and guards many times at the detention center.   Both inmates and guards regularly called her “dog,” “faggot,” and “boy.”  One guard told inmates that in exchange for “three soup packets” they could “have” Guzman-Martinez, an obvious encouragement of rape.  Allegedly she was also “often inappropriately patted down,” in other words groped, by male guards.

As if this frequent sexual harassment from guards and inmates were not enough, Guzman-Martinez faced two instances of violent sexual assault while she was detained at Eloy.  In one case a fellow inmate pushed her up against a wall, groped her, and threatened to have her beaten and raped if she reported the incident.  The other was perpetrated by Justin Manford, a guard at the CCA detention center.  According to the ACLU complaint:

Manford maliciously forced Ms. Guzman-Martinez to watch him masturbate into a white styrofoam cup and then demanded that she ingest his ejaculated semen. Failures by Defendants CCA, DeRosa and Manford to adequately screen and monitor Manford, and to prevent situations where a male officer such as Manford is alone with a transgender woman detainee and out of sight of others, enabled this horrific assault on Ms. Guzman-Martinez.

The assault followed a history of frequent inappropriate behavior and inquiries by Manford about Ms. Guzman-Martinez, including questions about her sexuality, whether she had a boyfriend, and whether other inmates had seen her breasts.

During the commission of the assault, Manford made offensive gestures, faces, and comments towards Ms. Guzman-Martinez and threatened that he could have her locked up in “the hole,” lengthen her detention or have her deported to Mexico if she did not follow his demands.

While Guzman-Martinez reported Manford and he was convicted of “attempted unlawful sexual contact”, justice certainly was not done.  Manford was only sentenced to two days, time served.

Sexual assaults like these are not isolated incidents for queer and trans inmates and detainees.  A 2007 study  found that “[s]exual assault is 13 times more prevalent among transgender inmates, with 59 percent reporting being sexually assaulted.”  This same study found that 67% of inmates who identified as LGBTQ reported being sexually assaulted while incarcerated, a rate 15 times more prevalent than that of the general inmate population.  According to a fact sheet from Just Detention International, “LGBTQ inmates are frequently labeled as ‘queens,’ ‘punks,’ or ‘bitches’ for the duration of their detention,  permanently marking them as targets.”   After being assaulted, queer and trans inmates then face bigoted victim blaming.  As the JDI fact sheet explains, “Corrections staff tend to confuse homosexuality and transgender status with consent to rape, and trivialize the problem. LGBTQ inmates frequently describe officials ignoring or even laughing at reports of sexual violence. To make matters worse, LGBTQ inmates who report abuse are often subjected to further attacks, humiliating strip searches, and punitive segregation.”

Beyond mere heterosexism and cissexism on the part of guards and inmates, policies such as misgendering systematically abuse queer and trans inmates.   As the Just Detention fact sheet explains:

The homophobic culture of corrections is compounded by policies that do not take into account the specific concerns of LGBTQ prisoners. For example, transgender women are typically housed with men, in accordance with their birth gender, and are required to shower and submit to strip searches in front of male officers and inmates. In addition, gay and transgender inmates often seek protective custody because of their heightened risk for abuse, only to be placed in solitary confinement, locked in a cell for 23 hours a day, and losing access to programming and other services.

Thus, official policies in the prison system subject queer and transgender inmates to serious psychological discomfort, while heightening their already severe risk of sexual abuse.

In addition to violence, harassment, and sexual assault, queer and trans inmates are often denied access to appropriate medical care.  According to Masen Davis, Executive Director of the Transgender Law Center, “Prisons have a legal duty to provide adequate health care, but LGBT people in prisons often face extra barriers to accessing basic and necessary medical treatment.”  One example of this is denying transgender inmates access to hormone treatment, even if they were using such hormones prior to incarceration.  In Wisconsin, the ACLU had to file a lawsuit to overturn a law that banned medical treatment for transgender prisoners.   Another example concerns HIV positive inmates.   A 2010 report from Human Rights Watch details the systematic discrimination faced by HIV positive prisoners in South Carolina.

Abuse of queer and trans inmates is not limited to adult prisons and detention centers.   A report for The Nation titled ‘I Was Scared to Sleep’: LGBT Youth Face Violence Behind Bars vividly describes incidents of violence and harassment that LGBTQ youth have faced in America’s juvenile justice system.  From beatings to victim blaming to bigoted slurs from guards, queer and transgender youth are regularly abused in juvenile corrections facilities.  They are faced with human rights violations as brutal as those faced by their adult counterparts.

Deportation as a Death Sentence

For companies like Corrections Corporation of America, GeoGroup, and Management and Training Corporation, the money comes from keeping people locked up.  But when you’re operating an immigration detention center, the end result for many detainees is inevitably deportation.  In order to secure more detainees, all three of these corporations have financially backed anti-immigrant legislation, and such legislation almost certainly means an increase not just in rates of detention, but in rates of deportation.

So what sorts of consequences can deportation have for queer and transgender immigrants?  In some cases, it can mean that they will be deported to countries where they are very likely to be persecuted, perhaps even killed, for who they are.  For example, Tanya Guzman-Martinez, whose ordeal in a CCA detention facility we already discussed, applied for and received asylum on grounds that she would be persecuted in Mexico for being transgender.   When HIV positive immigrants are deported, it can be a death sentence if they are sent to a country without access to necessary medication.  A 2009 Human Rights Watch report, Returned to Risk, discusses deportation of HIV positive migrants in detail.

What kind of ally profits from this?

This essay is mostly intended to educate people about the ways prisons, immigration detention centers, and the deportation process oppress the queer and transgender community, not to attack Jane Marquardt.  However, it’s well worth asking:  What kind of ally to the LGBTQ community profits off of these sorts of human rights violations?  Jane Marquardt is a respected and influential member of Utah’s LGBTQ community, but if she profits off of a system that oppresses us, how good of an ally is she?  While I have not yet found specific details regarding how her company, Management and Training Corporation, handles sexual assault against queer and trans inmates, there are multiple documented cases of sexual assault and illegal strip searches in their facilities.  Furthermore, regardless of how MTC handles their own facilities, they have pushed for laws that increase rates of immigration detention and deportation.  In doing so, they have backed the caging, rape, harassment, abuse, and possibly even wrongful death of queer and trans immigrants.

This also raises a question for the LGBTQ movement more generally.  Where will our focus as activists be?   Are we going to solely focus on easy issues like gay marriage and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, or will we confront the caging of queer and trans people, as well as the subsequent harassment, rape, assault, and deportation they face?  This question decides whether we will be allies merely to privileged queers or to all queers.

1 thought on “The Prison Industrial Complex vs. the Queer and Trans Community

  1. Thanks so much for sharing this! I really appreciate the work of the Prison Divestment Campaign.

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