Prison Sex: The Case for Tolerance

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“PRISON SEX” is a phrase that evokes a visceral response in many people, ranging from neoliberal indignation to erotic fantasy to hellish nightmare. But what is the reality? Here are some essential facts showing that LGBT people are disproportionately incarcerated in the U.S. The National Inmate Survey estimates that 9.3 percent of males in prison are gay or bisexual, and 42.1 percent of female prisoners. Overall, sexual minorities are three times more likely to be incarcerated than the general population (Bacak, et al., 2018). Participation in underground economies of drugs and sex work, sting operations in public parks, HIV criminalization laws, and discriminatory enforcement of sex offense laws all play their part in putting sexual and gender minorities at greater risk. (See my 2018 survey for details.)

         Although prisoner support was central to the gay liberation agenda of the 1970s, it receded into the background as the movement aimed for respectability and reincarnated itself as assimilationist and middle-class in the 1980s and ’90s. “Bad gays,” an embarrassment hindering broad public acceptance, were erased by the mainstream LGBT movement (Kunzel, 2008). However, if LGBT people are to embrace the full legacy of the black Civil Rights movement, we should be concerned about our missing brothers, sisters, and lovers who have made mistakes that entangled them with the criminal justice system. Disproportionate criminalization and sentencing of our community must be recognized and opposed.

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Thomas K. Hubbard is professor of Classics at the University of Texas, Austin, and president of the William A. Percy Foundation for Social and Historical Studies.

 

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