Why are LGBT People Still Seen as Criminals?

Claire Burrows, Guest Contributor

In light of Dharun Ravi's hate crime convictionQueer (In)Justice: The Criminalization of LGBT People in the United States is a timely and insightful book. Documenting the LGBT community's continuing struggle against the justice system, the authors explore how queer expression is subjected to social stigmatization and expose the ways violence and injustice are embedded within the law. 

Queer (In)Justice opens with the story of Vasco Núñez de Balboa, a sixteenth century conquistador who reportedly threw 40 men to his hunting dogs after finding them dressed as women and engaging in sexual acts. Balboa's actions are among the earliest examples of punishment for sodomy. He set a precedent for viewing LGBT people as sexual “criminals” throughout the Americas, a punitive standard that still persists in the region five hundred years later.

While popular media pays a lot of attention to new and existing laws that aim to protect people who are LGBT, it overlooks the pervasive ways these people are also perceived as subjects of suspicion. This is particularly the case for queers of color, sex workers, immigrants, poor people, and youth.

Clearly a book for activists, Queer (In)Justice is an intelligent and accessible read. While the graphic tales of violence are sobering and overwhelming, illuminating this hidden history effectively illustrates the moral imperative for achieving sexual rights. The authors provide a proactive perspective, offering concrete actions that the book's readers can take to advocate for meaningful change. They suggest we “turn a queer eye” to the justice system and engage in innovative forms of activism.

As long as the judicial and law enforcement sectors view 'queer' as 'deviant', full equality for LGBT people will be impossible. The information in Queer (In)Justice can be used to tell lawmakers that being LGBT is not a crime. It also serves as reminder that we are all responsible for each other's well being, regardless of our sexual identity.

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