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January 14, 2020


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Creating Safe Spaces for the Incarcerated LGBTQ Community

January 14, 2020

I just completed my first semester of law school and yes, Elle Woods, it was hard. Prior to law school, I taught legal education to at-risk youth in non-traditional schools and juvenile justice centers throughout the Bay Area. I also monitored conditions of confinement in California prisons and jails. I have had the unique opportunity of visiting with and talking to incarcerated folks in juvenile halls, county jails, men and women state prisons across California, and even those on death row in San Quentin.

One of the most memorable conversations I had was during a visit to a maximum-security prison. Although my primary responsibility was to investigate medical related concerns, I always began each conversation with small talk to make the space safe. Simple things, like sharing some information about myself and, if the person was comfortable, addressing them using their first name instead of “inmate last name.” In one instance with a new client, I shook their hand and asked them their preferred name.

They stopped me, smiled and said, “Are you gay?”  I laughed, said yes, and asked what gave it away. They said, “I feel like you get the struggle.”

Shortly after, they came out to me as trans. They had never told anyone else before and were terrified how people were going to react, especially in prison. But they were ready to be out and begin transitioning. We proceeded to have a two-hour conversation filled with tears, vulnerability, bravery, and laughter.

About a month later, I received a letter from a name I didn’t recognize.
The letter said:

“Gabby, I thank you for your spirit is a glow; for it is a reminder that in struggle there is victory; I thank you for your smile, because it reminds me of the hope that lies within us during weakness and fear. When I met you, you helped me become myself. Continue to use our pain to inspire others to understand our struggles and experience. Our pain is the molding and shaping of our passions.”

My former co-worker visited them a few months ago and learned that they were doing well and had begun transitioning. Although they were in prison, they finally felt free.

I went to law school to continue serving those impacted by mass incarceration and our criminal justice system, especially working directly with people in carceral facilities and their families.  Law school is difficult, but not for the reasons everyone told me; it’s difficult to stay hopeful when many of the people who look and identify similar to me are in cages in detention centers across the country. Nearly all of my previous clients were people of color and many of them identified as LGBT+, but I cannot say the same about the students in my law school classroom.

Carceral facilities dehumanize and attract society’s most marginalized populations including immigrants, people of color, children of incarcerated parents, and LGBT+ folks. Those overrepresented in our legal system have been dragged into the cycle of incarceration because of the trauma they have experienced from a young age. Specifically, LGB identifying individuals are 3x more likely to be incarcerated than their heterosexual peers.

If you have the capacity, I highly recommend becoming a pen-pal through Black and Pink, a prison abolitionist organization supporting LGBT+ incarcerated folks. For anyone incarcerated, corresponding with someone on a regular basis is itself a harm reduction strategy, giving that person a support network outside of prison.

Finally, here’s a photo of my dog Blu. My partner and I adopted him during orientation week. Ironically, he is an emotional support animal, but has severe anxiety and abandonment issues, so it’s debatable who is emotionally supporting who. Jokes aside, I’m thankful for my family and Point supporting me through this journey.




This post was written by Point Scholar Gabby Sergi.

Gabby is a student at the University of California Hastings, College of the Law. With her JD, she plans to help children of incarcerated parents, immigrants, people of color, and LGBT+ folks – all of whom are overrepresented in our legal systems as clients, not service providers. Read more about Gabby here.

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