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Two people in prison hug while a guard watches
Illustration by Janelle Retka

The forces that animate our lives don’t disappear in prison. In fact, people incarcerated in the United States find all sorts of ingenious ways to assert their humanity and celebrate their individuality.

That doesn’t mean it’s easy. For incarcerated LGBTQ+ people, discrimination and other forms of mistreatment are too often regular features of life. But, in defiance of these difficulties, acts of joy and ceremony, of solidarity and resistance, also are common.

This June, Global Forum Online reached out to a handful of writers across the country and asked them to share their thoughts about Pride. Read their reflections below.

— PJP Editors

Two incarcerated individuals strike a vogue pose
Illustration by Janelle Retka

Inside, I celebrate Pride Month like it’s a holiday. I help bring together people in my prison wing and in other housing units who are LGBTQ+ to play games like spades, dominoes, chess and Monopoly Deal. Last year, we held a mini ball — a runway competition that originated in Black and Latino LGTBQ+ communities — where people walked in various categories, including “vogue for your life” and “thug realness with a twist.” We also had push-up contests and a small talent show, and we all pitched in to give prizes to the winners, with one artistic queen making trophies out of tissue paper. Later, we held a potluck dinner in which we served some of prison’s finest foods: nachos, burritos, prison pizza, punch, hamburgers, fried chicken, steamed rice, and noodles with veggies, meat and sweet Asian sauce, along with that prison delicacy, potato chips. We even had a radio playing “house” music as we celebrated our time together. It was amazing.

— Summer Breeze, writing from Missouri

The LGBTQ+ community at the Jefferson City Correctional Center, in Missouri, is diverse, loving, strong and supportive. We come together as a family in an environment filled with people who often treat us as the butts of jokes or with disgust, or who would rather we didn’t even exist. We are young and old, Black, brown and white. We are gay, trans, queer — and we are oppressed.

Two people in prison hug while a guard watches
Illustration by Janelle Retka

In this prison, the simple act of a trans girl hugging a friend is viewed with disgust by guards. But a straight boy hugging another straight boy doesn't even cause them to bat an eye. Also in this prison, there is an unwritten rule in our community that says: If we see that one of us is down or having a rough time, we lift them up by whatever means possible. It is common for us to greet one another with a smile and a hug, no matter the disdain we might receive as a result. While some of us help the community by sharing food and other items purchased from the commissary, others help by offering their advice on legal matters, such as appeals or civil rights violations.

At the end of the day, we help each other make it through the madness of incarceration.

— Lexie Handlang, writing from Missouri

Being both incarcerated and transgender is difficult and dangerous. Every day, you must endure inmates and officers who make derogatory statements about the fact that you take hormone therapy. You have to endure men and women who are often intimidated by you simply because of your appearance. And, to add insult to injury, you must deal with people who hate you for no other reason than that you are different. In Texas, where I am incarcerated, transgender males are looked upon as confused. We are not respected. Our rights are violated on so many levels, and there are only a few organizations that will help! If I could change one thing about the unit I am currently on, I would have them no longer violate our civil rights.

— Khaȧliq Shakur, writing from Texas

A television set in prison showing RuPaul and JoJo Siwa on screen
Illustration by Janelle Retka

I have two LGBTQ role models. One is RuPaul. A longtime friend in prison talked me into watching “RuPaul's Drag Race,” and I did. I loved it! I previously watched “Lingo” and was a fan of the small innuendos and charismatic attitude RuPaul brought to the show. This embodiment of personal style and freedom gave me more confidence to be myself. The other is JoJo Siwa. She is a sensational lady. She has a powerful voice of her own and is a role model to a lot of those in the LGBTQ+ community. She inspires you to do what makes you happy.

— Chastyn “Nova” Hicks, writing from Arizona

In prison, I have been out of the proverbial closet since 2014. My experience in prison confirms what research has found: We get verbally, physically and sexually bullied and assaulted, and are ostracized by both staff and incarcerated peers.

Black & Pink National, a nonprofit, has documented through their newsletters many incarcerated LGBTQ+ people who have reported being victimized. Sadly, LGBTQ+ people, who are incarcerated at three times the rate of straight people, are at higher risk of being harassed and physically hurt relative to straight and cisgender people inside. I have heard many reports of correctional staff oppressing or attempting to oppress different expressions of LGBTQ+ Pride.

But with knowledge comes understanding. One thing prison systems could do to support LGBTQ+ people is to educate their personnel and populations on the history and different aspects of what it means to be LGBTQ+, and the research about what that looks like for incarcerated LGBTQ+ people. Celebrating Pride means celebrating the lives of those who have lost the battle to be themselves in their fullness. Despite how much farther we still have to go, it is because of them that today I can proudly be me.

— JC Rodriguez, writing from California

A man in prison sits on the edge of his bed with a hickey on his forearm
Illustration by Janelle Retka

Jared was probably the greatest love I've ever had in prison. I was 43; he was 23. I said “hi” one day, and he seldom left my side after that. He lived in the cell across from me but was in my cell whenever I was not at work. We never actually had sex — only a bit of fondling now and then. We had to be careful. I would lose my job if we ever got caught doing anything. But he loved to snuggle up to me and cuddle while I ran my fingers through his shaggy blond hair. When he found out one day that he would be transferred, he cried in my arms. Then, as a going-away gift, he gave me a hickey on my forearm.

I kissed that hickey every day until it faded.

When he paroled, his family forbade him any contact with felons. Someday, I hope to hear from him.

— Dennis Mintun, writing from Idaho

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Global Forum Online has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

Summer Breeze is the pen name of a Black trans writer incarcerated in Missouri.

Lexie Handling is a transgender writer working on bettering herself, and learning how to crochet (which is not as easy as she first thought). She is incarcerated in Missouri.

Khaȧliq Shakur is a trans writer incarcerated in Texas.

Chastyn “Nova” Hicks is a writer and artist incarcerated in Arizona.

JC Rodriguez is a writer, poet, certified community coach and certified mediator incarcerated in California. They hold two college degrees (marketing, general business) and are a proud member of the LGBTQ+ community. They are currently pursuing a paralegal certificate and serve as a jailhouse lawyer member of the National Lawyers Guild. Rodriguez is also an executive coaching team member and regular contributor to Getting Out by Going In (GOGI), a Southern California-based nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering individuals.

Dennis “Abbadunamis” Mintun is a writer incarcerated in Idaho.