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The New York Times
New York Set to Close Jail Unit for Gays
By PAUL von ZIELBAUER
Published: December 30, 2005
For at least three decades, gay and transgender inmates had their own housing unit inside Rikers Island's sprawling jail complex. To be admitted, all a new inmate had to do was declare homosexuality, or appear to be transgender, and ask to be kept out of Rikers's main jails.
The idea, city correction officials said, was to protect vulnerable inmates who might otherwise become victims of discrimination or sexual abuse in the rough world of the general inmate population. The only other metropolitan jail to separate gay and transgender inmates is Los Angeles County Jail. Gay inmates there, however, are forced to live separately from other inmates.
But at Rikers Island, gay housing, as it is called by New York correction officials, is about to end. On Nov. 28, the Correction Department stopped admitting new inmates to the unit. In a few weeks, the unit, which still holds about 50 people, will be no longer.
Under the new rules, gay or transgender inmates who want protection from general-population inmates must apply for it in a special hearing, correction officials said. If granted, the protective custody requires inmates to be held in individual cells for 23 hours a day, just as inmates punished for disciplinary reasons are held.
Martin F. Horn, the city correction commissioner, said gay housing was ending as part of a larger reorganization of inmate housing to improve security. The change of policy, he said, will increase jail safety among gay and transgender inmates.
Though originally intended to promote safety, gay housing became a dangerous wing at Rikers because it mixed weaker inmates seeking protection with violence-prone inmates seeking to prey on them, Mr. Horn said. Some inmates who were not gay, he added, would request to be placed in the unit as a way to avoid their enemies in the general population, or to take advantage of a group they perceived as weak.
"It was the only area of the department where inmates could choose where they wanted to live," irrespective of the security classification each inmate receives upon entering the jail system, Mr. Horn said in an interview. "What we ended up with was this housing unit where people were predatory and people were vulnerable. The very units that should be the most safe, in fact, had become the least safe."
The elimination of special housing for gay and transgender inmates has outraged some critics, who say that Mr. Horn's new policy essentially punishes pretrial detainees, who have not been convicted of any crime, for their sexual orientation. It also forces these inmates, their advocates say, to choose between the possibility of being abused in the general population or being locked up alone for 23 hours a day.
"This is not a change for the benefit of the prisoners, this is a change for the benefit of the administration," said Carrie Davis, a social worker at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center in New York, whose clients include former Rikers inmates. "What they're saying is, people who by virtue of immutable physical characteristics are going to be put in 23-hour lockdown," she added. "Does that sound fair?"
Other inmate advocates say the new policy contravenes city regulations and at least one state court ruling. In 1982, the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court, Second Department, ruled, in Schipski v. Flood, that Nassau County's policy of holding protective-custody jail inmates in lockdown 22 hours a day was unconstitutional. The new policy also violates regulations created by the City Board of Correction, a jail oversight agency, that stipulate which type of inmates can be placed on lockdown, said D. Horowitz, a lawyer with the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, a Manhattan-based group that represents transgender clients.
Thomas Antenen, a spokesman for the Correction Department, said that department lawyers believed the 1982 case was different because it involved a blanket rule for protective-custody inmates. New York City, he said, assigns protective custody case by case. Hildy J. Simmons, the board's chairwoman, did not return calls seeking comment yesterday.
Matt Foreman, the executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, said his organization and about 15 others were seeking a meeting with Mr. Horn to come up with an alternative method of separating vulnerable gay or transgender inmates. "Our hope is that this decision can be modified significantly," Mr. Foreman said.
Jail for gay or transgender prisoners to close on Rikers Island
By DAVID B. CARUSO
Associated Press Writer
December 29, 2005, 5:24 PM EST
NEW YORK -- One of the nation's few jail dormitories specifically for gay or transgender prisoners is closing on Rikers Island, prompting complaints from some activists who say it is a needed safe haven.
The unit, which opened on the city's island prison complex in the late 1970s to assuage complaints about abusive treatment of homosexuals, stopped accepting new inmates last month at the direction of Department of Correction Commissioner Martin Horn.
The facility could be shut entirely within the next few weeks, the department said. It has space for 146 prisoners but was holding 126 when it began emptying on Nov. 28. Fifty-six prisoners remained Thursday.
Plans call for the specialized unit to be replaced with a new protective custody system that would be available to prisoners who feel threatened, regardless of their sexual orientation.
The change has alarmed members of some civil liberties and gay rights groups, who note that the new protective housing would likely be more restrictive than the old unit.
Prisoners whose safety was at risk would be locked in their cells for 23 hours a day, rather than be allowed to mingle with other inmates. Prisoners could avoid the extra restrictions by staying in the jail's general population, but there, they might be subject to harassment or worse, activists said.
"We're not talking about people calling you names," said D. Horowitz, a legal fellow at the Sylvia Rivera Law Project. "People should not be punished for wanting to be safe."
Eighteen groups sent a letter to Horn on Thursday asking him to reconsider, including the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Legal Aid Society, the New York Civil Liberties Union and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.
Correction Department spokesman Tom Antenen said the unit, which held only a fraction of the gay inmates at Rikers, was being done away with as part of a broader restructuring of the jail's prisoner classification system.
Jail administrators have no intention of ignoring Rikers inmates who say they feel threatened because of their sexuality, Antenen said.
"If that is the case, and they need to be protected from the general population, then we will endeavor to provide the best possible security," he said. That could include a "23-hour lockdown," or it might entail moving them to a different city facility.
More than half the prisoners in the pretrial detention center at Rikers are there for five days or fewer.
Specialized housing units for gay prisoners are rare in the U.S., although jails in a few other places do have them, officials said. The Federal Bureau of Prisons does not maintain such units anywhere in the country, nor do state prisons in New York.
Transgender activist Mariah Lopez said she knows firsthand the difference between the specialized unit and regular housing at Rikers, having been imprisoned in both on prostitution charges.
Outside of the protective unit, Lopez said she was subject to taunts and physical abuse, while inside guards and prisoners alike are "generally more sensitized" to issues of gender identity.
"I can't conceive a Rikers Island without gay housing," Lopez said.
Rikers島のゲイ、トランスジェンダー拘置所が閉鎖 - Anno Job Log 2005/01/02
Published on TaipeiTimes
Outlook for gay rights better in Western states
This year saw same-sex unions legalized in several countries, but challenges remain in oppressive countries such as Iran and China
DPA , TAIPEI
Wednesday, Dec 28, 2005,Page 9
Gay rights movements gained momentum this year, with several countries legalizing or preparing to legalize gay marriage, but persecution of homosexuals continued or intensified in many countries.
While 700 pairs of gay and lesbian couples married in the UK under the civil partnership law last week, Chinese police cracked down on a gay cultural festival in Beijing and the new Polish anti-gay president Lech Kaczynski vowed to "purify" Poland.
"The struggle for gay rights is a long, long road. We must persevere and never give up," Wang Ping (王蘋), director-general of the Gender/Sexuality Rights Association of Taiwan, told reporters. "The success achieved this year was only in certain countries, while the situation is still bad in other countries. We hope next year global gay rights movements can link up so that groups in progressive countries can lend help to groups in backward countries."
This year Spain, Canada and the UK legalized same-sex marriage, bringing the number of countries allowing gay unions to 14. South Africa, Austria and the Czech Republic are expected to follow suit next year.
The civil partnership law in the UK captured the world media's attention because 700 same-sex couples -- including singer Elton John and his Canadian filmmaker lover of 12 years David Furnish -- tied the knot.
Peter Tatchell, spokesman for the British gay rights group OutRage, said the Elton John-David Furnish wedding would raise the profile of gay love and commitment.
"Their same-sex civil partnership ceremony will be reported all over the world, including countries where news about gay issues is normally never reported. This will give hope to millions of isolated, vulnerable, lesbian and gay people, especially those living in repressive and homophobic countries," he said.
Last year gays, lesbians and transsexuals held about 200 gay pride parades around the world to demand equal rights, with 121 of them held in the US.
Several US states have introduced same-sex union laws, while some large US companies have granted gay couples the same benefits as heterosexual couples.
While gay rights movements scored victories in Europe and North America this year, there was little or no improvement in the fate of homosexuals in other parts of the world.
In some countries, discrimination against and persecution of homosexuals continued or worsened, according to human rights and gay rights groups' reports.
On July 19, Iran hanged two teenage boys aged 17 and 18 on charges of raping a 13-year-old boy, triggering protests from international gay rights and human rights groups which suspected the youths were executed for being gay.
On Nov. 29 the new pope, Benedict XVI, unveiled a document banning homosexuals from becoming priests, triggering protests from gay rights groups and gay priests who called the document insulting.
"People don't choose to be gay, they are born that way. Just in the same way as some are born with brown or blonde hair," Franco Grillini, an Italian gay activist, psychologist and member of parliament, told reporters.
China, whose gay population has been estimated at 40 million, continues to suppress homosexuals although it stopped persecuting gays as "hooligans" in 1997, removed homosexuality from the list of mental illnesses in 2001, and has allowed the media to discuss homosexual topics.
On Dec. 23 Beijing police barred homosexuals in Beijing from holding The First Beijing Gay and Lesbian Cultural Festival at the 798 Artists' Zone. When the organizers moved the festival to the On/Off Bar, several policemen raided the site and ordered the event cancelled.
"They said we had not applied for a licence for our performance, but performances in Beijing bars do not need licenses," Jiang Hui, the spokesman for gaychinese.net, told reporters.
Qi Chia-wei, a Taiwanese gay activist, said he hopes there will be more "positive" media reports on homosexuals next year.
"Most of the reports on homosexuals are related with crimes which reinforces people's stereotypes of gays. I hope there will be more positive reports, but that requires gays to come out of the closet and most gays are afraid of coming out of the closet," he said.
"I am happy that Taiwanese director Ang Lee shot the film Brokeback Mountain this year. We should have more positive things like that," he added.