CI: Abolishing Queer Criminalization

May 14, 2014 at 6:32 pm by: nancy a heitzeg Category: Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, Intersectionality, Prison Industrial Complex, What People are Doing to Change the World

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Criminal InJustice is a weekly series devoted to taking action against inequities in the U.S. criminal justice system. Nancy A. Heitzeg, Professor of Sociology and Race/Ethnicity, is the Editor of CI. Kay Whitlock, co-author of Queer (In)Justice, is contributing editor of CI. Criminal Injustice is published every Wednesday at 6 pm.

Abolishing Queer Criminalization
by Kay Whitlock

Momentum to expose, resist, and dismantle the criminalization of queers and people living with HIV – particularly at the complicated intersections of race, gender nonconformity, poverty, immigration, and disability – is building.

LGBT-HIV-Criminal-Justice-Report-Collage-638x425The signs and portents are everywhere, even though you won’t be reading about it – at least yet – in the mainstream press.  It won’t be announced any time soon at the gala fundraisers of Gay, Inc., that constellation of image-and-money-driven networks of rich, white gay men and those nonprofit “gay and lesbian” behemoths  that seldom, if ever, address those complicated intersections in meaningful terms.

But don’t worry about that.   Stay focused on the momentum, which grows out of grassroots energy and the work over decades, usually unheralded, of countless activists (including many who have been or are incarcerated), artists, thinkers, scholars, and community-based organizations.  Their fury over police and prison violence, their vibrant, generous dreams of justice that were never built on the foundation of punishment and retribution, and their refusal to cast one another aside for the sake of political expediency should inspire us all.

What’s at stake is far more then “ending” police and prison violence.  That’s too timid.  We need more.

What’s at stake is a transformed society that dismantles structural violence in its countless manifestations.  All of us are harmed by that violence, with its profound social, economic, cultural, political, and religious injuries, but the heaviest brunt is born by communities of color, poor people, women, transgender, and gender nonconforming people, and people with disabilities.  And we need to understand the roots of this violence in structural racism that encompasses many communities of color, but has a history rooted firmly in chattel slavery and the institutional forms of violence that arose in the period after abolition to contain and control black people.

It is impossible to envision and create an authentically just society without exposing and dismantling criminalizing processes ,policies, and practices.

Two recent portents of a “growing-stronger” queer current in broad struggles against the criminalization of marginalized and vulnerable peoples are these:

“Anti-Criminalization” as a Major Theme for Progressive Southern Queers

 Founded as a multiracial LGBTQ organization in 1993, Southerners on New Ground, popularly known as SONG, has always worked across issues of race, class, gender, culture and sexuality with both LGBTQ people and allies.

unleashpowerMEMEIt has long sought to “build and maintain a Southern LGBTQ infrastructure for organizers strong enough to combat the Southern-specific strategy of the Right to divide and conquer Southern oppressed communities using the tools of rural isolation, Right-wing Christian infrastructure, racism, environmental degradation, and economic oppression.”

For quite some time, SONG has been deeply involved in work in support of immigrant rights, most recently through its involvement in the Not 1 More Deportation Campaign (#Not1More) to expose, confront, and overcome unjust immigration law and governmental practices.  (This is a project of the National Day Labor Organizing Network, NDLON.)

In May 2014, SONG announced that anti-criminalization  is surfacing as a major organizing theme.

For many of us, this violence manifests in a climate where day in and day out we face the possibility of deportation and detention, race-based attacks from the police, or assault using public restrooms because of our gender or sexuality. All of this is why, as SONG, we are not just concerned with quality of life policy fights but also life and death issues like everyday LGBTQ violence, police harassment, deportations of LGBTQ immigrants, and the high rates of incarceration of LGBTQ people of color. ~ Southerners on New Ground

New Report Recommends Federal Policy Changes for Addressing the Criminalization of LGBT People and People Living With HIV

roadmap-for-change-cover May 2014 also saw the release of an important new report:  A Roadmap for Change: Federal Policy Recommendations for Addressing the Criminalization of LGBT People and People Living with HIV. Published by the Center for Gender & Sexuality Law at Columbia Law School and co-authored by the Center for American ProgressThe Center for HIV Law and Policy, and Streetwise & Safe (SAS) , the report was created with the input of 50 activists, policy advocates, lawyers, and grassroots organizations.

Two of the five co-authors, Dean Spade, legal scholar and activist affiliated with the Sylvia Rivera Law Project Collective and Andrea J. Ritchie, police misconduct attorney and coordinator for Streetwise and Safe, have long histories of groundbreaking work in exposing, organizing against, and working to dismantle law enforcement violence in queer and transgender communities.   Other co-authors are Catherine Hanssens, Aisha C. Moodie-Mills, and Urvashi Vaid.

A Roadmap for Change   “providesan extensive outline of policy measures that federal agencies can adopt to address discriminatory and abusive policing practices, improve conditions for LGBT prisoners and immigrants in detention, decriminalize HIV, and prevent LGBT youth and adults from coming in contact with the systems in the first place.”
Making the Case for Federal Policy Changes (pdf), available as a standalone document,  includes essays, excerpts, stories of people who have experienced law enforcement violence “in their own voices, and commentary from the report that establish the context for  its creation.

Additional Resources

 To learn more about the criminalization of LGBTQ people and people living with HIV, click on the links in the post. Here are some other useful resources.



People Living with HIV



Let's all keep the long term vision in mind: abolition of the prison industrial complex, and all social processes of criminalization.  Reforms can be good - but the ultimate goal is larger.

nancy a heitzeg
nancy a heitzeg moderator

thanks Kay for this update and graphic below.. Yes criminalization must be over..


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