Homophobia is still rife in UK prisons

Published: September 25, 2012

Despite moves in recent years towards eradicating discrimination against prisoners on the grounds of race or religion, the challenges facing gay men in prison have still not been addressed sufficiently by the prison service.

A letter in this month’s edition of Inside Time, the national newspaper for prisoners, highlights their plight. "I am gay and very ‘camp’ and due to my sexual orientation I have received abuse from other inmates," writes the prisoner. He explains that when the abuse turned to threats of violence he was granted "VP status", meaning he is now classified as a vulnerable prisoner and located on the vulnerable prisoner unit.

Since becoming a VP he has lost his job in the prison education block, is allowed only one morning session of basic education each day and spends the rest of his time in his cell. "I think the way we are treated compared to ‘normal’ prisoners is completely unfair and unjustified," he concludes.

At any one time, it is statistically likely that there will be around 8,000 gay prisoners in the UK, yet homophobic attitudes still abound on wings and landings. As a long-term prisoner, I witnessed the predicament of those identified as being gay. Force of personality enabled some individuals to cope better than others, but in the main the norm was derision and abuse. Many were pressured to engage in sexual acts, often by their deriding antagonists or, worse, suffered serious sexual assaults, which, it was clear to me, went largely unreported to or by the authorities.

Prison rules strictly forbid sexual activity between prisoners, yet every male prison in the country has a "condom policy". Steve Jones, Terrence Higgins Trust’s national director for Wales, visits a number of prisons in the south-west to support gay, bisexual and transsexual prisoners.

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