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5 writing to trans prisoners

The radical importance of writing letters to trans people in prison

Black and Pink, an organisation that stands for LGBTQ prisoners in the US, explains how you can help the incarcerated

For her guest edit in the Infinite Identities issue of Dazed, Chelsea Manning selected seven vital activist voices from around the US to answer a single question: What, for you, is the most under-discussed issue affecting the trans and non-binary communities in America today? Here, the national communications manager with Black and Pink – a US prison abolitionist organisation supporting LGBTQ prisoners – gives her answer. 

Forced isolation is a deeply inhumane experience. By nature, humans are most enriched when they have access to communal places which amplify all personhoods. When individuals are confined to locked spaces, especially ones where communities rooted in LGBTQ+ identities are not seen as sacred, there is a rift that produces a painful void. Black and Pink is able to do the privileged work of filling some of that void for our fellow LGBTQ+ siblings impacted by the prison-industrial complex.

Within our programming, we have a pen-pal system which gives individuals on the inside the ability to converse with people on the outside. This relationship is vital for many of our members, as many do not have ongoing communications with anyone else. The pure joy of being able to share with fellow LGBTQ+ community members that you have started hormone therapy, or stepped into your truth enough to come out, is a milestone in many LGBTQ+ people’s lives. We get to share those raw moments of humanity with them, and that is an honour.

“We cannot be erased. Not by fences, or legislature, or cells. It is our duty as a human family, and as an LGBTQ+ family, to stand with our siblings who are experiencing the prison-industrial complex”

As marginalised people, community matters. Knowing we are not alone in our struggles for visibility, humane treatment and respect is often life-saving. As LGBTQ+ individuals, many of our members have experienced disownment, harassment and violence due to their identities. Writing to and sharing space with people who have had their voices stripped from them by the system can be a healing process for all parties. This is why LGBTQ+ people impacted by the prison-industrial complex having the chance to write to others in our community is so important to their thriving and livelihood. 

When we discuss the importance and intricacies of prison abolition work, we must do so with an intersectional lens. The prison-industrial complex affects people, and people have intersecting identities. We also know the prison system affects LGBTQ+ people in disproportionate ways. Incarceration facilities are not known for being places where members of our community are met with respect and solidarity. Experiences of violence, mistreatment and erasure are rampant throughout the incarceration system for LGBTQ+ individuals. If we want to have dialogues about prison abolition work, those conversations must inherently include the narratives of LGBTQ+ peoples; otherwise they are inauthentic.

LGBTQ+ populations have always been a part of the human narrative. As the human family evolves and progresses through history, LGBTQ+ people will continue to be present. We cannot be erased. Not by fences, or legislature, or cells. It is our duty as a human family, and as an LGBTQ+ family, to stand with our siblings who are experiencing the prison-industrial complex. To remind them they are not alone. That we hear them, and stand with them in solidarity. Always.

Volunteer to write letters to incarcerated LGBTQ people here in the US and here in the UK

See all the activists and writers selected by Chelsea Manning, and read their responses to her question, here