Queer (In)Justice: The Criminalization of LGBT People in the United States by Joey L. Mogul, Andrea J. Ritchie, and Kay Whitlock.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The authors of Queer (In)Justice set out to prove two complementary theses. The first deals with the tendency of the “criminal legal system” to deal more harshly with LGBT citizens than with others, and to assume guilt or criminality on the basis of that orientation/identity. It is difficult, based on the evidence they produce, to disagree on this point.
The second thesis is equally compelling, although less thoroughly argued or defended: within the LGBT community at large, LGBT individuals who also belong to minorities are both more persecuted by the legal system and, largely, ignored by LGBT rights groups in favor of the more easily defensible white gay male. In fairness, this second point is harder to demonstrate due to the susceptibility of minority status in general to such discrimination, but even so, the authors choose somewhat weak targets: for example, increased violence toward LGBT Muslims in the aftermath of 9/11 may have little to do with their LGBT identities and much to do with their overarching religious or ethnic backgrounds. There may be a case here to be made, but a choice of less ambiguous examples would be warranted in order to make it.
In any case, whether or not the second hypothesis is warranted, the first in itself demands attention. The authors highlight specifically the weaknesses inherent in the dominant “hate crime” approach to dealing with anti-LGBT violence: giving enhanced punishment capability to law enforcement is pointless if it is law enforcement that ignores these crimes in the first place.
“The choice to pursue strategies that rely on increased policing and punishment to produce safety for queers requires a leap of faith that the system can and will be able to distinguish between the “good” or reputable gay, lesbian, or transgender victim and the “bad,” presumptively criminalized queers. Such faith is deeply misplaced” (p. 146).
Since the LGBT community cannot rely on legal institutions to provide for their security, the authors argue, it is necessary for the LGBT community to create innovative ways of protecting (and policing) itself. They point to action groups that are networking with local businesses to establish Safe Spaces and Safe Havens as unofficial refuges for victims of anti-LGBT violence, and developing HIV/AIDS education and support mechanisms within the American penitentiary system. The only way to get out of the box LGBT individuals have been placed in by the structural deficiencies of the criminal legal system, they argue, is to think outside of it.
Queer (In)Justice is a fascinating and extremely disturbing, yet totally indispensable read, and gives important insight into the plight of the LGBT community in the United States and the extent to which they continue to struggle for equality before the law. As the authors seek to illustrate, LGBT inequality goes far, far beyond the issue of marriage; in many ways, they argue, that is the least of their concerns.