Throughout the nation, LGBT inmates say they struggle to find their place within jail and prison populations.
Standard procedure is to separate inmates by their gender, but sometimes, when it comes to gay, lesbian and transgender detainees, that’s a slippery slope.
Separate and equal
The solution in the Los Angeles Men’s Central Jail has been a unique one: allow gay inmates to live in their own quarters. The idea wasn’t organic.
It stemmed from a 1985 ACLU lawsuit that alleged gay inmates were far more likely to endure physical violence at the hands of other detainees than their heterosexual counterparts.
Those who are housed in the "K6G Unit" will admit that they are much safer there than they would be in general population, but they also say they’ve managed to create a sense of community.
There is a a lot of friendship and a self-created in-house support group.
Life inside K6G
In other parts of the Los Angeles jail, inmates are trying to smuggle in drugs and other contraband. In K6G, those who are housed here say they’re more likely to try to have someone bring in bras or cute clothes.
If someone here is trying to file down a razor blade, it’s likely because they’re trying to create a DIY sewing needle as opposed to a shank.
They've also become quite adept at making clothes. Standard-issue white t-shirts are frequently cut apart and tied back together to make custom underwear and dresses.
The K6G seamstress is in high demand according to inmates, many of whom admit to trading commissary in exchange for that service.
They're even managing to transform some of the common areas. A series of poles on the jail’s rooftop exercise yard, for example, have been re-purposed as a pole-dancing venue.
On Friday nights, inmates will often entertain themselves by putting on talent or fashion shows.
Weeding out imposters
Those housed in the unit say that life in K6G is completely unlike other areas of the jail. Sometimes, heterosexual males will try to convince classification officers that they are men who love men.
Some are gang-bangers who are afraid to be placed into "gen-pop". For them, the gay wing of the Men’s Central Jail is seen as a safe haven.
Others are wanting to work their way in in hopes of hooking up with some of the pretty transgender detainees.
The Sheriff’s Department says part of the weeding out process is a simple question and answer. They’ll ask recently booked, K60 hopeful inmates what gay bar they frequent and details about the establishment.
It's unique, but it works
Although the gay wing at the Men’s Central Jail is certainly the exception to the rule, LGBT rights advocates are hopeful that other large urban jails will start to follow suit.
Jails and prisons are especially dangerous for gay, lesbian and transgender inmates, and when detention officers separate them from gen-pop detainees, LGBT inmates are far less likely to become victim of hate-based violence.