By Richard Saenz, Senior Attorney and Protected & Served? Project Manager
To commemorate the recent launch of our Protected & Served? 2022 Report, we are publishing a series of blogs that will discuss a range of topics including the importance of examining the ways that LGBTQ+ people and people living with HIV are impacted by the criminal legal system, the groundbreaking data we collected, recommendations for addressing the issues raised by the report, and more. This blog addresses the voices and experiences of survey participants who were detained at the time they participated.
On April 20, 2023, we at Lambda Legal along with our friends at Black and Pink National, and Strength in Numbers Consulting Group, published the Protected & Served? 2022 Report. The data—quantitative information and personal stories—was gathered from over 2,500 LGBTQ+ people and people living with HIV, about their experiences with misconduct involving police, courts, prisons, jails, schools, and other government agencies. And for the first time, Protected and Served? included participants who were detained in jails and prisons across the United States.
This is important because it provided a level of insight and perspective that wouldn’t be possible without hearing from this segment of our community directly about their personal experiences. Their responses, which included many first-hand accounts, deserved their own special report, which is why this edition of Protected & Served? also contains the Spotlight Report: Detained Participants.
In order to understand their experiences, we have to talk about who our detained participants are. In total, we received completed surveys from 421 community members in jails and prisons, almost 17% of all participants.
The detained participants were diverse in their identities and life experiences. A majority (55.3%) of detained participants were transgender, gender nonconforming, and/or nonbinary (TGNCNB). They were also more likely to be Black, Indigenous, or multiracial than our non-detained participants and slightly over half (53.7%) were people of color. Also notable: Detained participants were over three times as likely to have a disability as non-detained participants. As a matter of fact, the majority (60.8%) of detained participants who participated in our survey were living with a disability. We hope that community members and advocates understand that disability rights are an LGBTQ+ issue too.
Jails and prisons are dangerous places for LGBTQ+ people and people living with HIV, we know this as a legal organization that advocates for our community and fights back against the discrimination and abuse that runs rampant in the criminal legal system. We also know that risk of harm is compounded further when people in detention hold multiple marginalized identities. Anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination and HIV stigma have devastating consequences on our community members who are not detained, and through Protected & Served?, we learn, from their own words, about the impact of discrimination and stigma and the harms on those on the inside.
From this group, we learned that abuse in detention is the norm, not the exception. The overwhelming majority (94.3%) of detained participants reported experiencing abuse in detention, which included one or more of the following: verbal assault, physical assault, sexual harassment, sexual assault, other sexual contact, being referred to by the wrong name or pronoun, and being accused of an offense they did not commit.
The abuse isn’t limited to physical and verbal violence, however, nearly two-thirds (64.6%) of those in detention who took medication experienced a two-week or longer interruption in the past five years. Many participants specifically mentioned being deprived of lifesaving and life-sustaining medications such as hormone replacement therapy, antiretrovirals, heart medications, and psychotropic medications. And participants with a disability were more likely to have had an interruption in their medication (73.1% vs. 53.9% of those without a disability).
This is just a small fraction of what you can find in the Spotlight Report. I invite you to check it out for yourself. Alongside the data and our analysis, read the words of those who shared their experiences, sit with it, share it with your networks, then take this powerful data to make change in your community.
At the root of our work advocating for LGBTQ+ people and people living with HIV, is an unimpeachable belief in their humanity and dignity. Detained people must be treated fairly and their rights must be protected. That belief does not end the moment we interact with the criminal legal system, or are booked and processed into a detention facility, and not even when convicted of a crime and held to account.
Addressing the abuse and discrimination our communities face in the criminal legal system, including in jails and prisons, is necessary and urgent and it’s incumbent on us, as advocates, policymakers, and community members, to fight against bias and discrimination. We hope that the Protected and Served? 2022 Report, along with the Spotlight Report: Detained Participants, will be a helpful new resource for your advocacy.
Want to learn more? Watch this YouTube video of our special Protected and Served? broadcast where I, along with my co-authors from Black and Pink National and Strength in Numbers, discuss the report’s findings, answer pressing questions and more.