The Summit Shines Light on LGBTQ Prisoner Rights

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HBGC's Executive Director, Corey Yarbrough, addresses the crowd at the gathering.  Photo: TRT/Lorelei Erisis

HBGC’s Executive Director, Corey Yarbrough, addresses the crowd at the gathering.
Photo: TRT/Lorelei Erisis Click for other HBGC event photos!

Black and Pink and HBGC reflect on issues raised during event, move forward

By: Lauren Walleser/ TRT Reporter—

Black and Pink and Hispanic Black Gay Coalition (HBGC) convened an event called The Summit—a gathering of formerly incarcerated, convicted, policed and court-involved LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer) people in New England—in April, and have since continued their efforts in abolishing the prison industrial complex and challenging discrimination and abuses faced by prisoners, particularly LGBTQ young people of color.

“This work is important because the lives of incarcerated LGBTQ people are constantly ignored by mainstream LGBT groups,” said Jason Lydon, founder of Black and Pink. “The prison industrial complex disproportionately targets LGBTQ people of color and poor folks. These parts of our community are intentionally left out of efforts fighting for marriage rights, hate crimes legislation and military inclusion.”

The purpose of Black and Pink is to unite LGBTQ prisoners and “free world” allies in abolishing the prison industrial complex—based on the experiences of currently and formerly incarcerated people—through advocacy, education, direct service and organizing. According to Lydon, The Summit brought together about 40 people to share their experiences, discuss the harmful effects of policing on LGBTQ young people of color, the challenges of navigating the transphobic/racist court system, the violence of being incarcerated, and their dreams to create a new culture rooted in transformative justice rather than punishment.

“I got involved with Black and Pink after my own incarceration,” Lydon said. “When I got out of prison, I wanted to stay connected with folks I had been locked up with. It started as a small effort in my kitchen, writing to about 30 LGBT prisoners. Today we reach 2,700 prisoners around the country every month with our prisoner created newspaper.” [pullquote]”Jails don’t allow condoms, and that was one of the things we talked about at The Summit. Prisoners should be allowed condoms.”[/pullquote]

According to Corey Yarbrough, co-founder and executive director of HBGC, the goals of the event were to build community and a safe space for formerly incarcerated and policed LGBTQ individuals to share their experiences with law enforcement and to unite participants around the need to do more to support these individuals, while raising awareness of the disproportionate number of LGBTQ people and people of color caught up in the criminal justice system. The result was a call to action to do more to resist the structures that allow these issues to persist.

“The criminal justice system and the many issues that are connected to it such as racial profiling, crimes motivated by hate, and transgender discrimination are definitely social ills that impact both LGBTQ people and individuals of color,” Yarbrough said. “Additionally, HBGC challenges itself to consistently engage populations within the LGBTQ community that are often shunned by the mainstream LGBTQ community. We saw The Summit as a unique opportunity to further our mission of community empowerment through collaborating with and learning from formerly incarcerated and policed LGBT people about their experiences, needs, and demands.”

Yarbrough said he learned a lot from the event about one’s basic rights when communicating with police officers.

“Participants had the opportunity to engage in a Know Your Rights training with NYC based organizers from Streetwise and Safe,” said Lydon. “The workshop introduced attendees to safer ways to deal with policing, how to assert their right to remain silent, and the importance of demanding to speak to a lawyer if arrested. The training gave special attention to the needs of sex workers, as transgender women are often targeted by the police with charges of solicitation.”

Marquis Jones, an outreach volunteer with the HBGC, said he participated in the event because he doesn’t think anyone else is looking out for these prisoners. “[pullquote]For Black and Pink, we are unable to support efforts that make the police ‘nicer’ or more ‘respectful’ when they are still using inherently racist and transphobic policing practices like Stop and Frisk,” said Rev. Jason Lydon.[/pullquote]

“I think it’s important to try and improve the way the system handles same sex relations in prisons,” Jones said. “I don’t have the statistics in front of me, but I know plenty of LGBTQ youth who’ve been in jail and gotten an STD or HIV. Jails don’t allow condoms, and that was one of the things we talked about at The Summit. Prisoners should be allowed condoms.”

Lydon said the issues are very relevant now in light of the Boston Police Department’s release of their new policies on working with transgender people.

“For Black and Pink, we are unable to support efforts that make the police ‘nicer’ or more ‘respectful’ when they are still using inherently racist and transphobic policing practices like Stop and Frisk,” said Lydon. “Our members see the problem rooted in the experience of policing, period, not simply in the use of correct pronouns or gender of cops doing searches.”

HBGC’s next project that built on the work from The Summit was their 2nd Annual Advocacy Day, dedicated to the relationship between Black and Latino/a LGBTQ communities and law enforcement, which took place Wednesday, June 19 at Boston City Hall. People can continue to get involved in the issues by participating in ongoing organizing group meetings that will meet once a month and move forward the work plan that came from the strategy sessions at Advocacy Day as well as the call to action from The Summit. Black and Pink also continuously recruits people to be pen pals with incarcerated LGBTQ people.

For more information, visit www.blackandpink.org and www.hbgc-boston.org.