Originally Published April 15, 2020
They say that prison is a gay man’s paradise. But nothing can be farther from the truth. If incarceration is hard for heterosexuals, it’s a lot more difficult for gay inmates.
In fact, being gay in prison is a dangerous business. Surveys by civil right groups reveal that an overwhelming majority of gay prisoners have experienced verbal, physical and emotional abuse. Most of the time, it’s from their fellow inmates. But prison staff sometimes jump on the fray too.
Though unfortunate, this isn’t shocking. Prisoners are often segregated by gender. And to survive in an overly masculine environment, prisoners have to look tough. In such a setting, it’s no surprise that toxic masculinity often reigns supreme.
Any sign of femininity is often squashed or derided. But most of the time, it’s taken as a license to sexually assault someone without fearing for retribution. Studies show that LGBTQ+ people are six times more likely to be a victim of sexual assault than the rest of the prison population.
But the assaults and abuses against gay inmates stem far deeper than just toxic masculinity. Here are other reasons why being gay in prison is dangerous:
HOMOSEXUALITY IS OFTEN MISUNDERSTOOD
Progressive beliefs on homosexuality may have taken over in most parts of the world. But not in prisons.
A personal essay of a prisoner published in 2017 details how homosexuality is viewed in prison. The writer himself admitted to blaming his gay friend when he confided in him about being sexually accosted. He thought that his friend deserved it for choosing to be gay.
Because there is very little effort done to educate prisoners about the many facets of homosexuality, old and twisted ideas continue to prevail. Many prisoners and even prison staff still see gay people as oddities rather than human beings just like the rest of us.
These twisted beliefs are what spurn hatred for gay people in prison. There is so much more they don’t understand. Some think that homosexuality is a disease that can be cured. Others think of it as a lifestyle choice. As if people can choose who they are attracted to. (Related: How Do Lesbian Relationships Work in Prison?)
The thinking that gay people are “asking for it” when they show their effeminate side is also all too common. Prisoners are casually throwing around “don’t drop the soap” jokes in shower stalls. In the outside world, these types of jokes are easily labeled as offensive. But in prison, it’s not that big of a deal. That, in itself, tells us of the kind of emotional and mental torture gay people have to go through in prison.
The grave lack of understanding of homosexuality also often leads to physical attacks on gay people. As crimes often go unpunished in prisons, gay people are more vulnerable to hate crimes inside than when they are outside.
GAY PRISONERS ARE OFTEN VICTIMS OF SEXUAL ASSAULTS
We often hear stories of inmates being sexually assaulted in prison. But what we don’t realize is most of those victims belong to the LGBTQ+ community. (Related: What is the Prison Experience Like?)
Since prisons are gender-segregated, prisoners have very little choice in their sexual partners. Some of them choose to be celibate while others do it with prison staff. But most prisoners (even straight ones) engage in same-sex relationships.
Sometimes, these relationships are consensual. Other times, it’s tantamount to rape.
But sexual assaults in prisons are not always overt. The victim may not always see themselves as being raped. Despite them not entirely consenting to the act.
This is especially true for gay prisoners. They are seen as the closest thing to the opposite sex. Some of them are even sold as sexual slaves in prisons. Their “prison husbands” expect them to fill the role of a wife to a tee: from meek subservience to being available for sexual activities whenever their husband wanted.
As deplorable as this sounds, some gay inmates actually prefer this arrangement. Having a prison husband offers protection against sexual assaults from other inmates.
But no matter how “normal” it looks to the sexual assault victim, rape is rape. It can mess up a person’s self-worth. Prison rape victims often report that the trauma threatens their sense of masculinity, gender identity, and sexual orientation.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Judy Ponio is a firm believer in the power of sharing knowledge. Having extensive experience in the prison industry, she wants to share what she knows with the world. Judy also loves to write about political and legal topics.