A Discrimination Double Standard

Larry Price
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Wednesday - May 17, 2006
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It looks like the state is settling a lawsuit over the alleged abuse of three gay and transgender wards at the Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility. You may recall the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit last year on behalf of three youth inmates who said that, because of their sexual orientation, they were physically and emotionally harmed by guards.

The Attorney General’s office claimed the state is not admitting any wrongdoing, but then said the ACLU and the state have agreed on a whopping $625,000 settlement - $600,000 will go to the three teenagers in the case and the ACLU, and the rest will be spent on hiring an expert to help the state come up with better policies to deal with sexual orientation at the youth prison.

With all due respect for the civil rights law and the noble efforts of the ACLU, this settlement is unreasonable because resolving the lawsuit in this way creates a lot of problems, with which the correctional facilities can’t reasonably be expected to cope.

The wards in the lawsuit - a lesbian, a male to female trans-gender and a gay, described in court only by initials to protect their privacy - said they were targeted because of their sexual orientation or perceptions about their sexual orientation. The gay and the transgender youths also claimed to be victims of harassment by other youths at the prison, and said correctional officers at the facility watched but did not intervene “in any meaningful manner.”

U.S. District Judge Michael Seabright, in issuing his preliminary injunction in the case, ordered that youth correctional officers cannot abuse, harass or unfairly treat juvenile wards based on their sexual orientation. The injunction also instructs that the state should not isolate those youths except in emergencies to protect them from harassment and abuse, and the corrections officers should not use derogatory language toward wards because of their sexual orientation.

The judge didn’t stop there. He ordered that prison staff must stop other wards from using such language, and requires the state to discipline employees who violate the order.

The U.S. Department of Justice and the state have reached an agreement that will give officials three years to correct serious problems at the Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility or face federal intervention.

The frosting on the cake for me is the $25,000 that will be spent on a contract with Oregon juvenile justice expert Marty Beyer to help the state draft new policies to deal with sexual orientation at the youth prison. Surely we must have our own experts on sexual orientation right here in Hawaii?

Maybe I don’t understand all of the ramifications involved, but I don’t see how our A.G. can agree to a settlement like this and expect the youth facility to become a better place for these juveniles. To begin with, these teenagers were jailed for breaking the law.

The point if simple. It’s one thing to be elated about our new “Three Strikes” law, and then be so generous with the taxpayers’ money in making lucrative awards to inmates who claim they were discriminated against by guards and other inmates. In this scenario, the inmates actually realize a windfall cash flow, the ACLU gets more revenue for its non-profit activities, and an expert on sexual orientation gets an expense-paid trip to paradise.

It should be very, very difficult for an inmate, young or old, to accuse or extort the correctional staff without a bitter, prolonged legal battle. Why should we be so soft on youthful offenders and so tough on our correctional officers? It’s not fair.

The problem is we have a double standard in Hawaii. We love to talk about aloha and nondiscrimination in everything we do and then turn right around and promote Hollywood poking fun in music, lyrics and in plays at those of different sexual orientations, like La Cage Aux Folles, for instance. If this kind of discrimination is illegal in a correctional facility, then it should be illegal on stage, because it sends the wrong message and it’s not acceptable behavior under any circumstances.

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