White House Hosts Historic Meeting on LGBTQ People and People Living with HIV in the U.S. Criminal Justice System
The White House hosted 150 formerly incarcerated LGBTQ people, policymakers & advocates to discuss unique challenges faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer LGBTQ people and people living with HIV (PLHIV) in the criminal legal system.
White House officials in attendance included Ashley Allison, Deputy Director of Public Engagement and Senior Policy Advisor, Roy Austin, Deputy Assistant to the President for Urban Affairs, Justice and Opportunity, White House Domestic Policy Council, and Michael Botticelli, Director of National Drug Control Policy, and Raffi Freedman-Gurspan, Senior Associate Director for Public Engagement, the first openly transgender White House appointee.
Formerly incarcerated individuals in attendance include: Monica Jones, a Black transgender woman who successfully fought profiling for prostitution-related offenses in Phoenix; Ashley Diamond, a Black transgender woman who successfully sued the Georgia Department of Corrections for denial of medical care, resulting in system-wide changes in the treatment of transgender people in that state; Robert Suttle, a Black man living with HIV who was convicted and incarcerated under an HIV-specific statute in Louisiana; and Evie Litwok, a formerly incarcerated lesbian who founded Witness to Mass Incarceration, an organization dedicated to documenting the experiences of incarcerated LGBTQ people upon her release. They joined legal, advocacy and Administration leaders in discussions on discriminatory policing and other factors driving LGBTQ people into the criminal legal system such as HIV criminalization, youth homelessness, and high rates of poverty and discrimination against LGBTQ people, as well as conditions of confinement in federal prison, and HIV and health issues. Experts presented cutting edge research, innovative programs from around the country, and policy recommendations.
LGBT people comprise roughly 4% of the U.S. population, yet recent federal data show that 8% of people in prisons identify as LGBT. Research reveals particularly high rates of incarceration among LGBTQ people of color, people with HIV, and transgender people. In the U.S., 32 states have HIV-specific criminal statutes.
A national survey of LGBT people found that three quarters of respondents had interactions with law enforcement in the previous five years. Of these, a fifth experienced police misconduct, including profiling, false arrests, verbal or physical assault, or sexual harassment or assault.
Consistent with national trends, LGBTQ people of color, LGBTQ youth, transgender respondents and people living with HIV report higher rates of police harassment and violence, discrimination in courts and sentencing, incarceration, and immigration detention. One in five LGBTQ people of color report being asked about their immigration status by law enforcement, and transgender people of color report high rates of abuse in immigration detention.
“Racial profiling, abusive police officers, mass incarceration, and inhumane prison conditions are hurting our community. I am thankful that we are having these important conversations and that my experiences and ideas–and those of other people who have been arrested or gone to prison–are being included in a real way,” said Ashley Diamond.
“Over the past two years, members of the LGBT Federal Criminal Justice Working Group have drafted policies, litigated groundbreaking cases, built coalitions, and advocated before Congress for important policy changes to address the experiences of LGBTQ people and people living with HIV within a broader agenda to reduce mass incarceration and address racial disparities in the criminal legal system.” said Urvashi Vaid of the Vaid Group, one of the founders of the Working Group. “Today’s meeting is indicative of the progress and engagement LGBTQ and HIV advocates have had with this administration, and I’m hopeful it will lead to further important reforms and ensure that the work that remains to be done continues through the next administration.”
“Today we bore witness to the unique effects of mass incarceration on LGBTQ people, raising voices that are often unheard within broader criminal justice debates,” said Evie Litwok of Witness to Mass Incarceration.