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LGBT experiences in prison

Expert
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Do you cover transgender and sexual orientation issues in your psychology courses? Before or after your coverage, ask students where incarcerated transgender people should be housed. Should they be housed based on the appearance of their physical body or based on their outward gendered appearance? In other words, if someone was born male, identifies and dresses as female, is convicted of a crime, and sentenced to time in prison, should the person be sent to a women’s prison or to a men’s prison?

States determine where an inmate should be housed based on genitalia (Routh et al., 2017). That means that transgender women who have not had sex reassignment surgery are housed in men’s prisons.

Have students listen to the 35-minute Episode 18 of the Ear Hustle podcast, broadcasting from San Quentin State Prison. (There is a little salty language and a lot of frank discussion; the LGBT part of the episode runs about 27 minutes.)

Questions for students to consider as they listen to the podcast. After listening, students can discuss their responses in an online class discussion board, in small groups during class, or as an entire class:

How many out gay men are there at San Quentin? What reasons do the prisoners give for that number?

How many transgender women are there at San Quentin?

Who is Lady J? Write a short biography for Lady J. What is your reaction to Lady J’s story?

How have attitudes toward transgender women in prison changed since the 1980s?  

Who is Mike? Write a short biography for Mike. What is your reaction to Mike’s story?

Compare attitudes toward transgender women and gay men in your community with the attitudes in San Quentin.

What is your reaction to this podcast episode?

As of 2015, nine U.S. states provided sex reassignment surgery for state prisoners, including California. Most states provide counseling, some states will start hormone treatments whereas others will only maintain hormone treatment if the inmate has started prior to incarceration (Routh et al., 2017). Investigate what policies are in place for your state or province.

 

Reference

Routh, D., Abess, G., Makin, D., Stohr, M. K., Hemmens, C., & Yoo, J. (2017). Transgender inmates in prisons: A review of applicable statutes and policies. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 61(6), 645–666. https://doi.org/10.1177/0306624X15603745

About the Author
Sue Frantz has taught psychology in community colleges since 1992, and has been at Highline College in the Seattle area since 2001. She has served on several APA boards and committees, and was proud to serve the members of the Society for the Teaching of Psychology as their 2018 president. In 2013, she was the inaugural recipient of the APA award for Excellence in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning at a Two-Year College or Campus. She received in 2016 the highest award for the teaching of psychology--the Charles L. Brewer Distinguished Teaching of Psychology Award . She presents nationally and internationally on the topics of educational technology and the pedagogy of psychology. She is co-author with Doug Bernstein and Steve Chew of Teaching Psychology: A Step-by-Step Guide, 3rd ed.