The Death Penalty: A Queer Issue

 

Death penalty activists are already familiar with the large body of systematic research that demonstrates powerful links between race, economic class, and the death penalty in the US. It is well known that juries are far more willing to condemn people of color to death than white people; that poor people typically have inadequate legal representation; and that defendants are far more likely to receive a death sentence if their victims are white than if their victims are non-white. The bottom line is that our country's death row is disproportionately populated with African Americans and Latinos, and nearly all people on death row are poor.

What is less known is that lesbian and gay defendants, and those perceived or easily portrayed as lesbian, gay, or in any way not conforming to standard gender behavior, are more likely to receive the death penalty. Activists and journalists have estimated that 40% of the women on death row have had an allegation of lesbianism used against them during their trials, whether in fact it was true (or relevant to the case) or not . And we can point to numerous individual cases, which we detail below, where prosecutors have inflamed jurors' prejudices against lesbians, gay men, and others who do not conform to standard gender rules.

Right now we lack the same level of systematic evidence about the dynamics of sexuality and gender with respect to capital punishment as we have about race and economic class. This problem stems from myriad reasons including the fact that many defendants and/or their attorneys do not want to be "out" or publicize the discrimination in their cases because they fear that further homophobic and anti-gender variance bias will be used to convict or kill themselves/clients; many attorneys and activists do not know how to confront this bias in the court room, press or community and remain silent as to it; and many LGBTQ organizations have not made the criminal (in)justice system a priority worthy of attention or resources. Further, social scientists and other researchers have not explored this issue.

Queer to the Left, however, seeks to break this silence, stimulate a broader investigation of this issue, and draw more LGBTQ individuals and organizations into the fight against the death penalty and the use of bias in the criminal justice system.

Five Executions Involving Homophobia and Discrimination Based on Gender Variance

Analysis of Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality and the Use of the Death Penalty in the US

 

Since 2002, Queer to the Left has been involved in three major campaigns, in coalition with other organizations, to end the death penalty.

  1. Commutation of Death Row Individuals in Illinois
  2. Eddie Hartman
  3. National LGBTQ Anti-Death Penalty Network

Other Death Penalty Links

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