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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE | December 11, 2008

Meeting to Highlight Issues Faced by LGBT People in California Prisons

(San Francisco, CA, December 11, 2008)—Today, the California Senate Committee on Public Safety held an informational meeting to examine issues affecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in California’s prison system. Chaired by Sen. Gloria Romero (D-East Los Angeles), the meeting focused on the problems faced by LGBT people who are incarcerated, including harassment and abuse, unequal access to healthcare, and difficulties faced when re-entering into society.

“I am concerned by reports that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender prisoners are being misclassified by gender in our state’s prisons, which places them at risk for violence and abuse,” said Sen. Gloria Romero. “Additionally, we want to ensure they have the same opportunities to participate in rehabilitation programs to allow them to successfully re-enter society so we can reduce recidivism rates and alleviate prison overcrowding.”

Speakers at today’s meeting included Alexander Lee, Director of the Transgender, Gender Variant and Intersex Justice Project, and Bamby Salcedo, the Transgender Harm Reduction Project Coordinator with the Los Angeles Children’s Hospital. The Committee also heard testimony from LGBT people who are currently incarcerated. The witnesses discussed problems with the current classification system, which harms LGBT people by putting them at increased risk of violence and harassment, and suggested policy changes that would improve safety without costing the corrections system additional money.

“California needs to get out of the middle ages when it comes to protecting LGBT people's basic human rights in prison,” says Alexander Lee, Director of the Transgender, Gender Variant and Intersex Justice Project. “We lag behind the best thinking and planning on this issue, and homophobic and transphobic physical and sexual assaults are common—frequently facilitated by prison staff. At minimum, our state needs a better classification system to anticipate and prevent violence against our community members who are locked up.”

Professor Valerie Jenness, co-author of Violence in California Correctional Facilities (2007) and UC Irvine professor of Criminology, Law & Society, along with Linda McFarlane, Deputy Executive Director of Just Detention International, discussed the disproportionate violence and harassment directed at LGBT people in prisons. According to Just Detention International, 67% of all LGBT people report being assaulted while in prison and a crucial segment of the meeting addressed the root causes for this alarming statistic. Additionally, A.G., a survivor of sexual assault while she was incarcerated, testified about the harassment, abuse, and violence she experienced because of her gender identity.

“Contrary to popular belief, prisoner rape is not an inevitable part of incarceration, but the result of inadequate prison policies and poor management,” said Lovisa Stannow, Executive Director of Just Detention International. “We know that LGBT inmates are among the most vulnerable in the prison population. By making sure that they are housed safely and protected from abuse, corrections officials can prevent the rape of thousands of LGBT detainees every year.”

Lori Kohler, M.D., the Director of the Correctional Medicine Consultation Network, and Mary Sylla, the Policy & Advocacy Director for the Center for Health Justice testified to the Senate Public Safety Committee about prison healthcare and the barriers LGBT people in prisons often face in seeking medical treatment.

“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,” says Masen Davis, Executive Director of the Transgender Law Center. “People may have specific health needs related to being LGBT, and prison health care staff are often not aware of or trained on how to address those needs. California must ensure that all people in custody receive medically necessary care.”

Co-director of the Transgender Gender Variant and Intersex Justice Project Miss Major testified about the difficulties faced by LGBT people who have been incarcerated after they have returned to the community. Often, LGBT people in prisons are placed in administrative segregation, a highly restrictive and isolated setting that prevents them from participating in education and job-training programs.

Representatives from the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation were given a chance at the meeting to address these issues and to answer questions posed by the Committee. The public was also invited to comment.

“It is simply inexcusable that nearly 70 percent of all LGBT people in California prisons have reported being assaulted while incarcerated,” said Geoff Kors, Executive Director of Equality California. “We applaud our legislative leaders who are taking action to highlight the abuse LGBT prisoners face, and we are committed to improving the lives of LGBT people in our prisons and jails.”

Equality California Founded in 1998, Equality California celebrates its 10th anniversary in 2008, commemorating a decade of building a state of equality in California. EQCA is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, grassroots-based, statewide advocacy organization whose mission is to achieve equality and civil rights of all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Californians.

The National Center for Lesbian Rights is a national legal organization committed to advancing the civil and human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and their families through litigation, public policy advocacy, and public education.

Just Detention International (JDI) is a human rights organization that seeks to end sexual abuse in all forms of detention. JDI seeks to: engender policies that ensure government accountability for prisoner rape; change ill-informed and flippant public attitudes toward sexual assault behind bars; and promote access to resources for survivors of this type of violence.

The Transgender, Gender Variant and Intersex (TGI) Justice Project's mission is to challenge and end the human rights abuses committed against transgender, gender variant/genderqueer and intersex (TGI) people in California prisons and beyond.

The Transgender Law Center is a civil rights organization advocating for transgender communities through direct legal services, education, community organizing, and policy and media advocacy.

media contacts:


Erik Olvera
Director of Communications
National Center for Lesbian Rights
office: 415.392.6257 x324

Bethany Woolman
Communications Associate
National Center for Lesbian Rights
office: 415.392.6257 x305

NCLR Logo Transgender Law Center Logo

Kristina Wertz
Legal Director
Transgender Law Center

Equality California Logo

Alice Kessler
Communications Manager
Equality California
Mobile: 916.548.7795

Just Detention International

Ray Daniels
Just Detention International


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