You ever find yourself in a situation where you realize the smallest accidental push on a domino of conversation has set you on a course to something large and complicated, something you're not sure you want to, or have time to start in on? That's often me in my volunteer life.
I've become involved in minority issues in Utah over the last four years by such happy, if not intimidating, accidents. Near all of my work in this area has nothing to do with the GLBT community, but I'm sure what pulls me to it comes from my experiences as a gay man, an outsider in my community. In all, through there's been some difficulty and sadness for it, it's been a wonderful experience with people from everything from our refugee to our Latino community.
What has me feeling some trepidation is now focusing on my community. In a meeting with a representative from the state department of human services regarding primarily ethnic diversity issues, the guy just casually mentioned they are having trouble figuring out how to deal with gays and lesbians in prison. He said they are seeing an increase in out gays in prison, and there are issues of harassment, abuse, and, well, sex. Both the state and county are looking for help in finding ways to better deal with incarcerated gays.
So, I'm no expert in any of that, but here I am, in a unqualified place and at an unqualified time, and I'm taking up the issue. Next week I'll be taking the diversity training they give each year in the sheriff's department. I'll be doing this with a lesbian and a Muslim friend, along with a large group of your traditional Utah police officers... sit-com hilarity may ensue.
This part of the consequences of that conversation is fine by me. I want to make sure that, say, if officers come to a home like ours, after one parent is killed or made unconscious by an intruder, they know not to take the kids from their remaining dad because "children can't have two dads." I'm happy to help officers know we're out there and am glad to have the opportunity to make suggestions on their training in that regard. Still, it'll certainly be an interesting day.
Where I pause is prison. What do I say on this topic, when we give our recommendations? I'll admit I've a hard time caring about the rights of some people, particularly after some crimes. Maybe I even feel harsher for "my people" who act criminally, because I know how they hurt, along with their victims, my family in the minds of others by association.
Still, I think I've come to some conclusions, but I'm wondering what you all think.
What should be the treatment of gay people in prison? Straight inmates get conjugal visits from spouses. What should gay couples get, when one is incarcerated and the other not? Do they get to couple up with other inmates? Select their lover as a cell mate? Are they allowed to have sex at all? Even if they are disallowed, and rightly, the most basic freedoms of self-determination?
If they can have sex, how do STD's factor in? I mean, these are already men who've prooven themselves to be selfish and amoral in some blatant manner; what does the state do to be sure they are responsible with sex?
Finally, what about harassment? Gay men are being beaten in prison for being gay. Oddly, some gay men will even get raped by the straight inmates. Go figure. How to combat that? I doubt many people would near suggest a gay guy in for tax evasion should have something like rape or beatings added to their punishment, right? If this is such a large problem, should there be, say, a separate gay cell block? (And will Ang Lee have rights to the script?).