It’s 2016, but the Eastern Kentucky Correctional Complex didn’t get the memo.
The minimum and medium security prison in West Liberty, Kentucky has a mail policy that prohibits prisoners from receiving books and magazines that “promote homosexuality” — whatever the prison thinks that means. In just a four-month period in 2015, EKCC used the policy 13 different times to confiscate mail including letters, cards, “pages out of book,” and magazines like Out and The Advocate.
The mail policy is based on the dubious notion that gay prisoners pose a security threat simply for being who they are and the equally absurd idea that reading about gay people will somehow make you gay. Of course, gay people are no more likely to pose a threat than anyone else. And reading articles about gay celebrities and news doesn’t make anyone gay, any more than it makes anyone heterosexual to read articles in People about Beyoncé and Jay-Z. As our country’s understanding of what it means to be gay has evolved, the idea that keeping gay-related publications out of prisons will prevent gay prisoners from existing is ludicrous. Even the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized that being gay is an immutable part of who a person is.
Unfortunately, the assumption underpinning EKCC’s mail policy — that gay people are inherently dangerous — is one that permeates law enforcement and correctional agencies. Gay and transgender people, particularly people of color, are all too familiar with being profiled as criminals while going about their daily lives.
The persistent profiling of gay communities stands in stark contrast to our country’s incredible progress toward LGBT equality in so many areas. Gay people now have the freedom to marry in all 50 states and can serve openly in the military. But that progress is marred by government policies and practices that single out gay people as inferior and even criminal.
That’s why today the ACLU sent a letter demanding that EKCC end its policy of censoring mail that “promotes homosexuality.” The policy is a clear violation of the free speech rights of prisoners — both gay and heterosexual — who are interested in reading about gay popular culture and politics. And it offends the equal dignity of LGBT people to target gay-related publications for unequal treatment.
It’s time for the Eastern Kentucky Correctional Complex to step into the 21st century.
CORRECTION: The original post stated that Eastern Kentucky Correctional Complex was located in East Liberty, Kentucky. It is located in West Liberty, Kentucky. The text has been corrected.