ACLU Asks Court to Require Immediate Action to Stop Harassment of Gay and Transgender Youth at Hawaii Juvenile Detention Facility

Affiliate: ACLU of Hawaii
October 4, 2005 12:00 am

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Honolulu – The American Civil Liberties Union has asked a federal court to order the state’s juvenile detention facility to take immediate action to halt harassment and abuse of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender wards. The ACLU’s motion for a preliminary injunction aims to force Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility (HYCF) to implement policies and training to protect LGBT youth in its care.

“”The gay and transgender wards in the state’s care desperately need protection from the atmosphere of harassment and fear they deal with on a daily basis,”” said Lois Perrin, Legal Director of the ACLU of Hawaii. “”Waiting for the lawsuit to resolve itself before acting on the rampant problems at this facility would only leave these youth in danger, and we believe there’s ample evidence to persuade the court to compel the state to act now to insure the safety of those children.””

On September 2, the ACLU filed a civil rights lawsuit with the U.S. District Court for the District of Hawaii on behalf of three young people who have been abused and harassed at HYCF because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity. HYCF is the only correctional facility in the state where minors who have had trouble with the law are sent with the ultimate goal of preparing them to reintegrate into their communities and families. However, papers filed by the ACLU paint a picture of a punitive, terrifying atmosphere for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth at the facility.

“”The environment at this facility right now is so hostile and unsafe for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth that it’s literally life-threatening,”” said Tamara Lange, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s national Lesbian and Gay Rights Project. “”Whether it’s threats of rape, name-calling, or staff telling gay teenagers they’re disgusting and are going to hell, this kind of abuse is really dangerous. All three of our clients were on suicide watch, and one nearly died. They should not have to face these conditions again for one more day.””

The ACLU has cited a deplorable list of incidents at HYCF that went on for months despite repeated pleas by doctors and psychologists who were concerned about the wards’ safety and well-being. Among the many incidents detailed in the motion:

  • A male-to-female transgender student was repeatedly verbally abused and preached to by guards who called her “”wrong”” and “”unnatural”” and threatened to cut off her hair. After she was transferred to the boys’ unit, she was physically assaulted and groped, often in front of guards who did nothing to protect her. Rather than attempting to ensure her safety, HYCF segregated her for almost two months, and did not allow her to interact at all with other wards.
  • Male wards in the facility relentlessly harassed a ward who was perceived to be gay, threatening him with rape, and once rubbed semen into his face. When the young man reported the incidents, HYCF did nothing.
  • In April, the head administrator at HYCF called a special meeting of all the girls and staff at one of the units in the facility for the specific purpose of singling out a lesbian couple to belittle them about their relationship. The administrator told the couple that their relationship was “”disgusting,”” then required the other wards to create a list of rules for the couple; the wards decided that the girls shouldn’t be allowed to even speak to each other under threat of disciplinary measures, including lockdown.
  • Youth correctional officers routinely told a lesbian ward and her girlfriend that their relationship was “”bad”” and that they were going to hell and referred to the couple’s relationship as “”this butchie shit.”” Other guards routinely made lewd and humiliating remarks to the couple, including, “”You two eating fish earlier? At least you’re not finger-banging yourselves in the TV room.””

Representing a 17-year-old male-to-female transgender girl, an 18-year-old lesbian, and an 18-year-old boy perceived to be gay, the ACLU claims that the incidents at HYCF violate a host of plaintiffs’ constitutional rights, including equal protection and due process. The ACLU is asking the court to require HYCF to work with an expert consultant to establish policies, procedures, and training to prevent further violations of LGBT wards’ civil rights.

While the conditions at HYCF are particularly bad, the type of harassment and discrimination cited in the ACLU’s lawsuit is widespread in the juvenile justice system. Few facilities offer training for staff or policies to insure the safety of LGBT youth, harassment by both staff and peers is commonplace, and facilities often respond to abuse of LGBT youth by putting the victims in segregation or isolation instead of punishing the abusers.

Any LGBT person who has suffered similar experiences at HYCF and wants to tell his or her story confidentially or publicly should contact the ACLU of Hawai’i at or (808) 522-5900.

The ACLU of Hawaii is working with the national ACLU Lesbian and Gay Rights Project in handling the case, with assistance from Angela Padilla, Matthew Hall, Marilyn Martin-Culver, Ashleigh Aitken and Natalie Naugle of Morrison & Foerster LLP and Paul Alston and Mei-Fei Kuo of Alston Hunt Floyd & Ing.

Legal documents and additional information on the case, R.G., et al. v. Koller, et al. can be viewed online at: /caseprofiles

The National Center for Lesbian Rights fact sheet, “”LGBTQ Youth in the Juvenile Justice System,”” can be found online at:

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