“Straight Inmates Fake Being Gay To Live There”

Ani Ucar reports on the gay wing at LA’s Men’s Central Jail “an exceptionally rare, if not unique, subculture, the only environment of its kind in a major U.S. city”:

Nothing like it exists in America’s 21 largest urban jails, all contacted by the Weekly, where officials described in far more modest terms their own steps to deal with and house gay inmates. San Francisco has a transgender housing area, but gay inmates live among the general population. In New York’s Rikers Island, whose similar gay wing was shuttered in 2005, a jail spokesman laughed out loud, saying that whoever decides which men get placed in L.A. County’s gay jail wing “must have really good gay-dar.”…

MCJ’s gay wing was set up in response to a 1985 ACLU lawsuit, which aimed to protect homosexual inmates from a higher threat of physical violence than heterosexuals faced. But something unexpected has happened. The inmates are safer now, yes. But they’ve surprised everyone, perhaps even themselves, by setting up a small and flourishing society behind bars. Once released, some re-offend in order to be with an inmate they love. There are hatreds and occasionally even severe violence, but there is also friendship, community, love — and, especially, harmless rule-bending to dress up like models or decorate their bunks, often via devious means.

Mark Joseph Stern comments:

The gay wing, of course, is still a jail, and most inmates yearn for their eventual release. Many were disowned by their families after coming out and turned to drugs to cope. About 150 of the 400 inmates take self-improvement classes to help them stay clean when their sentences end, but a number of repeat offenders wind up back behind bars. Life in the gay wing isn’t a happy ending, nor is it necessarily a new beginning. But in America’s cruel, overcrowded prison system—where brutality and sexual violence toward LGBTQ inmates is horrifically common—the gay wing serves as a tiny bright spot of hope.