Lambda Legal Hub




Prison Rape Epidemic Still Plagues LGBT Inmates 12 Years After Passage Of Federal Law

Star.Passion

Back in March we told you how Texas prison officials had finally agreed to protect transgender inmate Passion Star (self-portrait above), after Lambda Legal filed a lawsuit alleging the Department of Criminal Justice had ignored her years of complaints about being raped and assaulted. 

The New York Times recently interviewed Star — and photographed the horrific scars she suffered in one attack — for an in-depth piece about the national epidemic of prison rape, which persists despite passage of a federal law to combat the problem in 2003. 

As of last year, only two states had certified compliance with the Prison Rape Elimination Act, while five have refused the standards outright, foregoing federal funds rather than striving to meet them.  

From The NYT

StarAfter decades of societal indifference to prison rape, Congress, in a rare show of support for inmates’ rights, unanimously passed the Prison Rape Elimination Act in 2003, and [Rick] Perry’s predecessor as governor, President George W. Bush, signed it into law.

“The emerging consensus was that ‘Don’t drop the soap’ jokes were no longer funny, and that rape is not a penalty we assign in sentencing,” said Jael Humphrey, a lawyer with Lambda Legal, a national group that represents Ms. Star (right) in a federal lawsuit alleging that Texas officials failed to protect her from sexual victimization despite her persistent, well-documented pleas for help.

But over 12 years, even as reported sexual victimization in prisons remained high, the urgency behind that consensus dissipated. It took almost a decade for the Justice Department to issue the final standards on how to prevent, detect and respond to sexual abuse in custody. And it took a couple of years more before governors were required to report to Washington, which revealed that only New Jersey and New Hampshire were ready to certify full compliance.

According to Just Detention International, which works to eliminate sexual abuse in detention facilities, LGBT inmates are 15 times more likely to be victims of prison rape than non-LGBT inmates. And Texas is home to five of the 10 facilities in the nation with the highest rates of sexual assault. 

Back in October, Lambda Legal filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Star, accusing Texas prison officials of deliberate indifference to threats of sexual assault and violence against her in male facilities. The lawsuit alleges Star has lodged dozens of grievances, complaints and requests to be placed in safekeeping, but instead of taking measures to protect her, prison officials have told her to “suck dick,” “fight” or to stop “acting gay” if she doesn't want to be assaulted. 
 
On one occasion, when Star appealed to officials to protect her from a gang member who said he owned her, they responded by moving her even closer to the inmate. The next morning, the gang member attacked Star, calling her a “snitching faggot,” and slashed her face eight times with a razor, resulting in 36 stitches. Even after the attack, prison officials refused to move Star to protect her from violence in the general population.

Lambda Legal recently delivered a petition with more than 10,000 signatures to current Texas Gov. Greg Abbott urging him to adopt the federal prison rape standards. From the group's release: 

Following the delivery of the “Campaign to Stop Prison Rape in Texas” petitions today, Jael Humphrey, Lambda Legal Staff Attorney and Criminal Justice and Police Misconduct Strategist issued the following statement:

“We have brought the voice of the public directly to Governor Abbott’s desk. Texas is among the states with the highest rates of rape and sexual assault in its prisons. This violence disproportionately affects lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. LGBT people in Texas prisons, like Lambda Legal client Passion Star, live with the risk of sexual violence every day.

“Rape is not an inevitable part of incarceration, but leadership is key. PREA provides a framework to end sexual violence in Texas prisons and jails. Our petition represents the voice of a public eager to reform Texas’s prisons. We are hopeful that Governor Abbott will do the right thing and take steps to implement PREA.” ... 

Asked what she would say to Governor Abbott ahead of the May 15th deadline, Passion said: “We need something like PREA to change the culture of prisons in the state of Texas. If Texas was doing everything they say that they’re doing to stop [rape] from happening, then there’s no point in turning down PREA. I don’t want to have sex to be safe.  I shouldn’t have to.”


This Supercut of 20+ Years of LGBT Legal Victories Proves Without a Doubt that Love Rules: WATCH

Lamba

We're less than 20 days away from when the Supreme Court will begin hearing oral arguments in the four gay marriage cases that will decide whether there's a constitutional right to same-sex marriage nationwide. But we didn't get to this place overnight. For the past 20+ years Lambda Legal has been at the forefront of the LGBT community's legal fight for equality. 

Take a look back on Lambda Legal's two decades of milestones and victories that led us here, AFTER THE JUMP...(warning: tears and/or feelings of extreme elation may occur while viewing)

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Continue reading "This Supercut of 20+ Years of LGBT Legal Victories Proves Without a Doubt that Love Rules: WATCH" »


Texas Prison Officials Finally Agree To Protect Trans Inmate Whose Life Was In Imminent Danger

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Texas prison officials have agreed to place a transgender inmate in protective custody after Lambda Legal filed an emergency motion this week alleging her life was in imminent danger. 

Upton.KenKen Upton (right), senior counsel at Lambda Legal, told Towleroad on Saturday that the Texas Department of Criminal Justice has agreed to place trans inmate Passion Star (self-portrait above) in protective custody until the state files its response to the group's motion. 

Back in October, Lambda Legal filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Star, accusing the department of deliberate indifference to threats of sexual assault and violence against her in TDCJ’s male facilities. The lawsuit alleges Star has lodged dozens of grievances, complaints and requests to be placed in safekeeping, but instead of taking measures to protect her, prison officials have told her to “suck dick,” “fight” or to stop “acting gay” if she doesn't want to be assaulted. 

In November, rather than placing Star in safekeeping, the department transferred her to one of the state's most dangerous facilities and placed her in the general population. Prison officials also allegedly warned Star against filing additional complaints. 

Abbott.Greg“Passion’s life is in imminent danger, and twelve years after the passage of the Prison Rape Elimination Act, prison officials cannot pretend that they are unaware that LGBT individuals are vulnerable to sexual abuse when incarcerated," Lambda Legal staff attorney Jael Humphrey said in announcing the emergency motion. "Rather than take Passion’s courageous requests for protection seriously, TDCJ staff have increased Passion’s vulnerability by denying her protection and threatening to confine her in isolation if she complains.”
 
On a previous occasion, when Star appealed to Texas prison officials to protect her from a gang member who said he owned her, they responded by moving her even closer to the inmate. 

The next morning, the gang member attacked Star, calling her a “snitching faggot,” and slashed her face eight times with a razor, according to Lambda Legal. Even after the attack, prison officials refused to move Star to protect her from violence in the general population.

 
Texas, one of a handful of states that have refused to comply with the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act, is home to five of the 10 facilities with the highest rates of prison rape in the country. Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry called PREA “ill-conceived” and decided to pass up funding that the U.S. Department of Justice had earmarked for the prevention of sexual assault in detention facilities.

Lambda Legal has launched a petition, which currently has 2,204 signatures, calling on new Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to comply with the Prison Rape Elimination Act. 

According to Just Detention International, which works to eliminate sexual abuse in detention facilities, LGBT inmates are 15 times more likely to be victims of prison rape than non-LGBT inmates.  


Pro Bono Attorneys Handling Same-Sex Marriage Cases Slam Gay Inc. For Lack Of Financial Support

Nessel

A pro bono attorney who's challenging Michigan's same-sex marriage ban is publicly criticizing national LGBT organizations for failing to adequately support her efforts. 

Dana Nessel, co-counsel for Michigan marriage plaintiffs April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse (all three shown above), told Bloomberg Politics that attorneys from national LGBT organizations initially tried to dissuade her from filing the case because they said it didn't fit into their national strategy. When Nessel and her clients began to have success, she said organizations wanted to take over the case. After she refused, they denied requests for financial assistance, all the while using the case to raise money for themselves. 

From Bloomberg Politics

Nessel1An historic triumph for gay marriage may be within reach this spring on the biggest possible stage, but attorney Dana Nessel’s chief frustration at the moment is actually not anti-gay opponents. Rather, she’s taking aim at an unlikely target: the biggest, richest civil rights and gay rights organizations, all of which have left her team to beg and scrape for the estimated $1 million they need to litigate at the Supreme Court. “Nobody even wanted us to file this case, they all tried to stop us, and even now they’re not helping much,” she says tartly. “The great irony is, we’re the ones going to the Supreme Court.”

Private attorneys handling same-sex marriage cases in other states echoed some of Nessel's complaints, which are certainly nothing new to the movement. If you'll remember, national LGBT orgs didn't initially support the lawsuit challenging California's Prop 8, which was ultimately funded by the American Foundation For Equal Rights. 

However, one of the attorneys serving as Nesser's co-counsel in the Michigan case, Carole Stanyar (right), painted a slightly different picture in a statement to Daily Kos' Kerry Eleveld

Stanyar"While this article is mostly accurate in detailing our experience with the civil rights and gay organizations, it grossly understates the contributions of both GLAD and Lambda Legal. Mary Bonauto (GLAD) helped us the moment we asked her and has never stopped helping us. She is our co-counsel and deserves to be acknowledged. Throughout the case, Lambda has provided a great deal of assistance to us also. They helped us -- any time we asked -- to locate trial witnesses, to garner resources and research from around the country, and to help fund one of our expert witnesses (a $13,000 contribution). I was aware of a 'national strategy' to avoid the states in the Sixth Circuit, however, I don't recall either GLAD or Lambda ever discouraging us from filing or pursuing this lawsuit." 

According to Bloomberg, Lambda Legal was the only organization that responded to requests for comment about Nessel's complaints: 

TaylorLambda’s Marriage Project director Camilla Taylor (right) rejected the criticism, insisting: “We don't ever try to take over someone’s case. To my knowledge [the Michigan attorneys] are thrilled with all of the help we have provided, including financial resources.” She would not specify what those resources were and would not respond to questions about whether the group advised various plaintiffs not to file their suits. Attorney-client privilege extends to potential clients even if they don’t end up retaining the organization, Taylor said.

Certainly there are valid points on both sides of this debate, but as gay PR guru Bob Witeck (right) suggests in the Bloomberg piece, now's not the time for bickering: 

WiteckWhile national groups pressured Nessel to back off her critique for this report, unaffiliated activists say blaming her for speaking out is yet another illustration of the problem. “This is the case of our lifetime,” said Bob Witeck, a public-relations strategist who has worked with Human Rights Campaign and the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association, and advises American Airlines on their gay marketing outreach. “If others are raising large chunks of money and they’re not feeding and servicing the lawyers and the litigants in these cases, what are we giving it to? There can’t be weak links. We have to have our ‘A’ game going in. There can’t be any part of this defense that isn’t fully prepared.”

On that note, you can contribute to the Michigan marriage effort here

And watch the touching video of Nessel and her clients celebrating a federal judge's decision to strike down the state's marriage ban in 2014, AFTER THE JUMP ... 

Continue reading "Pro Bono Attorneys Handling Same-Sex Marriage Cases Slam Gay Inc. For Lack Of Financial Support" »


15 Years After Landmark Ruling In Favor Of Gay Straight Alliances, School Districts Continue To Deny Them

NPhighschool

Fifteen years after a landmark federal court ruling upholding the right of students to form Gay Straight Alliance clubs at public schools, some districts continue to violate the law by refusing to recognize GSAs.  

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday against a school district in Bainbridge, Indiana — 35 miles west of Indianapolis — on behalf of three students and the GSA at North Putnam High School. 

ACLU

The students formed the GSA at North Putnam more than a year ago, but after months of stalling, the school board voted Nov. 20 not to recognize the club. 

The ACLU alleges the district's failure to recognize the GSA violates both the federal Equal Access Act and the students' First Amendment rights: 

LGBT students at the school have frequently been harassed and wanted to form the GSA to provide a place to educate the community and support vulnerable students. The school, which allows other non-school-sponsored clubs and activities to meet, such as the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Key Club and Best Buddies, has denied recognition of the GSA club for more than a year. The students followed all the school's required procedures outlined in its student handbook to establish the club, including securing a faculty member to supervise the group. ... 

"The law is clear in this matter," said Ken Falk, ACLU of Indiana legal director. "There is no excuse for the school district's intransigence, which is causing real harm to its students."

The ACLU of Indiana was successful in reversing a similar decision by a school in the Town of Munster in July, 2014.

"The actions of the school district in clear violation of federal law leave the most vulnerable students at North Putnam without critically needed support," Chase Strangio, Staff Attorney at the ACLU added.

In November 1999, a federal judge ruled that the Salt Lake City school district's decision to reject a GSA at East High School violated the federal Equal Access Act. The Salt Lake district said it was banning all non-curricular clubs to get around the Equal Access Act, but continued to allow other clubs to meet. 

From Lambda Legal, which served as lead counsel in the Salt Lake City lawsuit: 

This case more than any other put the issue of GSAs on the nation's radar, letting students know they could fight back and letting school districts know they might be in violation of the law.

Apparently, some districts still haven't gotten the message. 

Read the ACLU's lawsuit, and watch U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan's video in support of GSAs from 2012, AFTER THE JUMP ... 

Continue reading "15 Years After Landmark Ruling In Favor Of Gay Straight Alliances, School Districts Continue To Deny Them" »


Lambda Legal: TX Governor-elect Greg Abbott Must Stop 'Horrific Violence and Sexual Abuse' Affecting LGBT Prisoners

Passionhz

When transgender inmate Passion Star appealed to Texas prison officials to protect her from a gang member who said he owned her, they responded by moving her even closer to the inmate.

The next morning, the gang member attacked Star, calling her a “snitching faggot,” and slashed her face eight times with a razor, according to Lambda Legal. Even after the attack, prison officials refused to move Star, who identifies as female, to protect her from violence in the general population.

Lambda Legal filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Star in October, accusing the Texas Department of Criminal Justice of deliberate indifference to threats of sexual assault and violence against Ms. Star in TDCJ’s male facilities. 

AbbottNow, the LGBT civil rights group has launched a petition calling on Republican Gov.-elect Greg Abbott, who takes office in January, to comply with the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act. 

From Lambda Legal: 

Texas is one of only seven states that has refused to comply with PREA. Texas is also home to five of the 10 prisons with the highest rates of reported rapes in the country, as documented in a 2013 report by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics. It is widely understood that sexual violence in custody disproportionately affects lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) inmates.

“Gov. (Rick) Perry has refused to comply with PREA, and Texas is among the states leading the nation in rates of reported rapes in its prisons. Governor-elect Abbott needs to fix this mistake and implement PREA,” Lambda Legal Staff Attorney Jael Humphrey said. “While Texas fiddles, LGBT inmates like Passion Star endure horrific violence and sexual abuse.”

According to Just Detention International, which works to eliminate sexual abuse in detention facilities, LGBT inmates are 15 times more likely to be victims of prison rape than non-LGBT inmates. JDI says Texas is home to more facilities with high levels of inmate-on-inmate sexual abuse than any other state. The group also says it receives more letters from survivors of sexual abuse in Texas prisons than from any other state.

In filing its lawsuit on behalf of Star, Lambda Legal alleges she has been raped, forced to submit to undesired sexual acts to escape violence, and threatened with sexual assault. Star has filed dozens of grievances, complaints and requests to be placed in safekeeping, but instead of taking measures to protect her, TDCJ officials have told her to “suck dick,” “fight” or to stop “acting gay” if she doesn't want to be assaulted: 

“Somebody, somehow, needs to shed light on what is taking place here in Texas prisons,” Star said in a written statement. “TDCJ officials get away with so much and disregard so many legitimate threats to people’s safety. It needs to stop somewhere. I fight for my life every day in here. Safety from rape and assault is not a privilege; it’s a right. I hope that this lawsuit will help make sure this doesn’t happen to anyone else.”

To sign Lambda Legal's petition, which will be delivered to Abbott once he takes office, go here.  


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