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The criminal justice system exacts a toll on some Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) communities. The experience of living in poverty and the concomitant exposure to a variety of governmental systems puts all poor, but especially LGBTQ low-income people of color, at risk of incarceration. What typically goes unexamined are the myriad ways that LGBTQ people are drawn into and experience the carceral system because of sexual identities and expression. This negative effect surfaces at every conceivable level: the marginalization and subsequent criminalization of queer youth; anti-gay bias in the judicial system; the rerouting of domestic violence cases from the civil to the criminal system in states where LGBTQ people don’t meet the statutory definition of family; exposure to rape and trauma during incarceration in prisons and jails; and in disproportionate sentencing, particularly death penalty cases.

Activists have long engaged in a wide range of worthwhile initiatives in pursuit of social justice. However, it is less common that groups have an unambiguous mandate to develop a philosophical and strategic approach that integrates organizing across issues of class, race, gender and sexual identity. Nevertheless, structural inequality operates through intersecting subordinations to make some more vulnerable to criminalization. In this essay, I argue that LGBTQ and civil rights communities should come to terms with and prioritize the concerns of low-income LGBTQ people who have been profoundly affected by the criminal justice system.

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Scholar & Feminist Online, Summer 2009.