Prisoners who are LGBT+

PAS is delighted to announce the publication of two additions to its Self Help Toolkits series, especially written to give advice and information to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT+) prisoners.  A Prisoner’s Guide to LGB Rights and A Prisoner’s Guide to Trans Rights were written by barrister Stuart Withers and have been produced in association with letter-writing organisation, Bent Bars. They are made available through the kind support of The Tudor Trust and The Paul Cottingham Trust.

Little is understood – beyond caricature – about life inside for of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, nor even how many such prisoners there may be.  Even The Prison Reform Trust’s Bromley Briefings, in their regular, otherwise rigorous, updates on UK prison statistics, do not mention LGBT+ prisoners. 

Estimates, however, cite 10,000 gay men (James, 2015) or bisexual men in prison throughout England and Wales, with many believed to have experienced homophobic bullying, abuse and sexual assault from other prisoners.  This is often met with no intervention from guards who do not want to be seen as sympathetic to LGBT+ prisoners.  There are no comparable estimates for lesbian prisoners. 

It is hard to fully understand the scope of alienation and abuse experienced by gay prisoners since they are subject to a ’cycle of invisibility’, where their sexual orientation is often hidden as a result of their own fears, and of the insensitivity of those who live and work in prisons to the challenges, fears and experiences of lesbian, gay and bisexual people. 

Transgender prisoners face a number of serious obstacles to being able to live in their acquired gender in prison.  Whilst already struggling to come to terms with his, or her, own identity, being allocated to a prison which does not match his, or her, gender identity is the most traumatic.  The allocation might be reflective of the person’s assigned gender at birth, but when he, or she, presents and identifies as a different gender it can lead to multiple complications and, in some instances – as in a number of high-profile cases – to suicide.

Unsurprisingly, LGBT+ prisoners are much more likely to report issues with their mental health whilst inside in comparison to other inmates. Many prisoners speak of a lack of understanding from staff and how heavy-handed staff can be in dealing with them.

In 2019-20, 10% of callers to PAS’ Advice Line identified as LGBT+, equating to some 2,455 prisoners.  The two new kits provide advice and information on a number of issues, including the legal and human rights of LGBT+ prisoners, reporting homophobic and transgender abuse and violence to the police, cell sharing, making complaints to prison authorities, case boards, healthcare, searches in prison and applying for a Gender Recognition Certificate.  They can be read and downloaded below.

A Prisoner’s Guide to LGB Rights

A Prisoner’s Guide to Trans Rights

On 23 November 2020 PAS held its first online event to launch formally the two LGBT+ Self Help Toolkits: A Prisoner’s Guide to LGB Rights and A Prisoner’s Guide to Trans Rights. Participants included author of the kits, Barrister at No 5 Chambers, Stuart Withers, Sarah Lamble, founding member of the Bent Bars Project and Reader in Criminology & Queer Theory at Birkbeck, University of London and Dean Kingham, solicitor at Swain and Co and a Committee member for the Association of Prison Lawyers. The event was Chaired by former PAS co-Director, Deborah Russo. The event was recorded and is available to view below.