Citing Shocking Incidents of Harassment of Gay and Transgender Youth, ACLU Files Federal Civil Lawsuit against Hawai'i Juvenile Detention Facility

Affiliate: ACLU of Hawaii
September 2, 2005 12:00 am

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HONOLULU – The American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal civil rights lawsuit late yesterday on behalf of three young people who say they’ve been abused and harassed because of their sexual orientation and gender identity while at the state’s juvenile detention facility.

The Hawai’i Youth Correctional Facility (HYCF) is one of two facilities is the state where minors who have had trouble with the law are sent primarily for rehabilitation. However, papers filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Hawai’i by the ACLU paint a picture of a punitive, terrifying atmosphere for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth at the facility.

“”HYCF is supposed to treat all young people who’ve had trouble with the law equally and help them make positive changes in their lives, but for LGBT youth being sent there is a brutal and degrading experience,”” said Lois Perrin, Legal Director of the ACLU of Hawai’i. “”The government should take care of our state’s most troubled youth and teach them how to be productive citizens, not brutalize and abuse them.””

Citing an extensive list of shocking incidents, the ACLU alleges that officials at the Hawai’i Office of Youth Services and HYCF ignored and sometimes even participated in an atmosphere of anti-gay harassment, humiliation, and fear for youth in the facility, despite repeated pleas by doctors and psychologists who were concerned about the wards’ safety and well-being.

Among the many incidents detailed in the ACLU brief:

· 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.””

· Male wards in the facility surrounded a ward who was perceived to be gay in the shower, threatening him with rape, and once rubbed semen into his face in the bathroom. 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.

· 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. 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.

“”HYCF has an obligation to ensure the safety of all young people in its care, including those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. This facility has not only failed at that, but has created an environment that is downright dangerous and increases the risk of teen suicide,”” said Tamara Lange, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s national Lesbian and Gay Rights Project. “”This kind of environment is only going to make rehabilitation more difficult for these young people.””

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 force HYCF to establish policies, procedures, and training to prevent further violating LGBT wards’ civil rights.

The ACLU of Hawai’i has long been involved in efforts to improve conditions at HYCF. In 2003, the ACLU issued a 34-page report detailing systemic problems at the facility. A year later, the U.S. Department of Justice also launched an investigation into conditions, policies, and practices at HYCF, and on August 4, 2005, released its findings. Like the ACLU, the Department of Justice found widespread violations of the Constitutional rights of juveniles in the facility.

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

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

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