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'Cultivating LGBT Awareness' in Prison

During World War II, members of the British intelligentsia began to spread the idea that American troops in the country weren’t there to fight the Germans. Instead, they were there to put down a possible British revolution.

Well, the famous British author George Orwell’s response was, “Only an intellectual could believe such stuff – an ordinary man could not possibly be such a fool.”

What brought Orwell to mind was a recent announcement by the Federal Bureau of Prisons that it was looking for people to serve as "Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Program Managers" inside federal prisons.

The duties of these “LGBT” program managers would include coordinating “activities and programs designed to cultivate Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender cultural awareness both within and outside the institution” -- institution in this case being a euphemism for “prison.”

They would also be expected to “attend monthly Workforce Diversity Committee meetings and other conferences related to the concerns of the constituency group; [and] participate in the development and implementation of the institution’s Affirmative Action Plan ...”

There’s more, but you get the point. My first response to the “Training Opportunity Announcement” was to laugh. The second was to paraphrase Orwell: only someone who has never spent time in an American prison could come up with something this ridiculous.

Whatever else this is about, it has nothing to do with the actual day-to-day running of an American prison. It neither promotes the safety of the prisoners nor their rehabilitation.

On the contrary, “cultivating LGBT cultural awareness” inside a prison is tantamount to painting targets on the backs of prisoners. As anyone who has been in a prison knows, they are violent places where rape is often the weapon of choice.

An offender whose who is perceived as weak is almost always a target. An offender who identifies as gay will certainly be one, which is why it’s absurd to think that gay prisoners would intentionally out themselves.

Should it be different? Of course! There are lots of things about American prisons that I would change if it were up to me. But expecting that “cultural awareness” programs are going to change anything for the better of LGBT prisoners is irresponsible folly.

It took years for a coalition led by Prison Fellowship to put the scandal of prison rape on the national agenda. Americans, when they weren’t ignoring the scandal, treated prison rape as the stuff of comedy, for example, the 2008 movie Let’s Go to Prison.

The Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 requires the Justice Department to “make the prevention of prison rape a top priority in each prison system.” How the “Training Opportunity Announcement” furthers this priority is far beyond me. It does nothing to make prisoners, regardless of their sexual orientation, safer. It does nothing to make prison officials’ jobs any easier.

Ironically and sadly, we’re putting LGBT representatives in federal prison while across the country chaplains are being cut because of budget tightening.

Where is George Orwell when we need him?

Chuck Colson's daily BreakPoint commentary airs each weekday on more than one thousand outlets with an estimated listening audience of one million people. BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today's news and trends via radio, interactive media and print.

Publication dateMarch 29, 2012

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