During Pride Month this year and all years, it is important to acknowledge and bring awareness to the challenges faced by the LGBTQ+ community in prison, and trans people in particular. In recent months, states across the country have introduced an unprecedented amount of anti-trans legislation that seeks to restrict gender-affirming care, legal recognition and participation in sports. According to the Trans Legislation Tracker, there are currently 556 anti-trans bills under consideration in the U.S.
Prison Policy Initiative estimates that nearly 5,000 transgender people are currently incarcerated in state prisons. A majority of incarcerated trans individuals they surveyed in 2016 were under age 34, younger than the average age of 39 for the general prison population. There is no data on transgender arrest rates, according to the research organization, but it cited evidence that police were biased against trans people, especially Black trans people. According to a survey by the National Center for Transgender Equality, 1 in 6 trans people have been incarcerated at some point, and nearly half of Black trans people have been incarcerated.
Gender-affirming health care remains out of reach for many trans people inside prisons. The Prison Policy Initiative survey found that 44% of transgender, nonbinary and two-spirit individuals, or those who identify with both genders, were denied access to requested hormones.
Despite these difficulties, members of the LGBTQ+ community find ways to assert their identity — and their pride — behind prison walls. These stories highlight the various experiences faced by transgender individuals in the prison system.
“How I Celebrate Pride in Prison” by Lexie Handlang: “I have two pride flags in my cell — a trans pride flag and a gay pride flag. The decorations represent hope and remind me to live each day to the fullest.”
“Misunderstood” by Shariff Taylor: “I think the other inmates have trouble digesting the fact that even though my outward appearance is male, I have feminine ways and I wear bras and panties.”
“Finding Love in Prison Is Possible, if Not Easy” by Chastyn “Nova” Hicks: “I now know it’s possible to find a special person in prison, for whom you can have healthy, intimate feelings.”
“How Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Law Feels to a Trans Person in Prison” by Nikki Nigel: “Considering that the state has acknowledged this in the past through policies that benefit transgender people in prison, the new legislation betrays the politicians’ naked political aims.”
“To Lil Nas X: Trust Me, Prison Is No Party for the LGBTQ Community” by Khaȧliq Shakur: “Here we have an entertainer who doesn’t mind boldly representing being gay. Yet his music video set in prison fails to bring awareness to the horrors that LGBTQIA+ people face while incarcerated.”
“From Violence to Acceptance: Overcoming My LGBTQ Bigotry” by Demetrice Crite: “One person who had the greatest impact on my thinking was a transgender woman at Menard Correctional Center, in southwest Illinois, who was in the cell next to mine.”
“The Transitioning World of a California’s Women’s Prison” by Dorothy Maraglino: “Where do the rights of protection for victimized women and the rights for a transgender person meet in harmony?”
“Stuck in Transition” by John W. Zenc: “Having been in prison for the past 45 years, I have witnessed how people in prison haze and make fun of the transgender women.”
Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.