Prisoners who are LGBT+

PAS’ two Self Help Toolkits for 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 to 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 were produced in association with letter-writing organisation, Bent Bars and made available through the kind support of The Tudor Trust and The Paul Cottingham Trust.  A revised and updated edition of the trans guide was published in December 2023.

The Prison Reform Trust’s Bromley Briefings Prison Factfile (Winter 2022) states that, “around one in twenty (5%) men and more than one in five (22%) women identify as either homosexual or bisexual” in prison. This is higher than the general population, where 3% identify as LGBT+.  In 2023-24, 10% of callers to our Advice Line, 24% of letter-writers and 19% of Outreach Clinic attendees did not identify as heterosexual. Three end-to-end legal cases were opened on behalf of prisoners who did not identify as heterosexual.

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.

Many LGBT+ prisoners are believed to experience 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.   

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.