By: Jason Lydon*/TRT Columnist–
On Saturday, April 27th, the Hispanic/Black Gay Coalition will team up with Black and Pink to host a summit for formerly incarcerated, convicted, policed and court-involved LGBTQ people in New England. This event is an opportunity to build community, challenge stigma, share stories and strengthen the movement to abolish the prison industrial complex. This is an effort to lift up the voices of people within our communities who are continuously silenced, marginalized, or actively ignored. While some march with the Gay Officers Action League at Pride, many others in our community, particularly transgender women of color, experience violence at the hands of police. The Summit will be created by those who attend. This article is an announcement and an invitation.
This past fall, Black and Pink collected funds from a number of donors to post bail for a transgender woman being held on $500 awaiting her trial. I have had the pleasure of accompanying this woman to court, meeting up with her to provide some support as she navigates the system and sit in a planning meeting with her to make The Summit a success. When members of our communities are locked up behind the walls, we all lose the potential for relationships. Certainly reaching through the walls, with letters and visits, is important, but the trauma and violence of concrete cages creates unbearable barriers to our communal health. Those who are targeted by this violence need space to come together to strategize for healing and building power.
I had the pleasure of being part of two different summits for formerly incarcerated people in 2007; a summit for survivors of sexual violence in Los Angeles and Transforming Justice, a historic conference that brought together transgender/gender non-conforming former prisoners, activists and attorneys to develop shared vision and strategy to end the criminalization of TGNC people. Both of these gatherings facilitated a space for me to begin owning my story as a formerly incarcerated person, while also recognizing that I am not the primary target of the violence perpetrated by the prison industrial complex. As a white cis-gender man who served a short sentence in prison, my role is to consistently bring attention to the harm of our carceral structures, while centering the leadership of those most impacted. This summit in Boston is going to be an opportunity for people to find moments of healing and the strength to use their own story for power.
Over the past few months that I have been in court doing support for a number of individuals, I have witnessed consistent harassment of LGBTQ people. In particular, while sitting awaiting a hearing for a friend to be released to a drug rehab program, I met a transgender woman who lives in shelters in Boston. We had a pleasant conversation while court was in recess, and then after she informed the Court that she is a transgender woman, her public defender proceeded to refer to her as “sir” and “he.” This inaccurate pronoun use was similarly used by the judge, clerk and prosecutor, despite the individual explicitly identifying herself to the court.
Transgender and gender non-conforming people may choose to use pronouns they do not identify with in the courtroom in order to experience less harm or discrimination because of their gender identity, but this is a decision that must be left up to the individual. When defense attorneys, judges, or prosecutors make this decision for someone they are causing further harm to someone who is already stuck in the violence of the court system. People navigating this system need a space to come together, to strategize with one another, to build community together, to make demands of our mainstream organizations who turn away time and time again.
The Summit will be a space for all kinds of people. Those who consider themselves to be allies, who have not experienced policing, incarceration, court-involvement, are encouraged to inform others and support the work that comes out of the summit, rather than attend it. The work of the day will be a continuation of work started by those who have come before us. It will be neither the beginning nor the end, but rather a piece of the important work that transforms victimization into empowerment and action.
*Rev. Jason Lydon is a Unitarian Universalist minister in Boston. He is a long time anti-prison organizer and founder of Black & Pink, an LGBTQ-focused effort working toward the abolition of the prison industrial complex. Jason is also an avid lover of famous people and blockbuster action flicks. You can reach Jason at [email protected].