As Texans continue to parse out the implications of what were, by many measures, historic midterms, The Dallas Morning News points out one particular aspect of what made them historic: the number of LGBTQ lawmakers in the state just doubled. In more than 150 years, there have been only three openly gay members of the Texas Legislature, but in January, that number grows to six. But progress is less apparent in Texas’ criminal justice system.
Ryan Carlino, a policy associate with the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, says a disproportionate amount of LGBTQ people are incarcerated. Carlino was lead author of the report, “Out Of Sight: LGBTQ Youth and Adults in Texas Justice Systems.” The report indicates that one-third of families reject their children after they come out as LGBTQ, and those kids are more likely to become homeless, which can then lead to a greater chance of incarceration.
“Especially if the child is from a low-income family, there are some pretty significant consequences,” Carlino says. “If you’re thinking about household resources and you have a child that you don’t want to support, it might be easier to say, ‘We’re struggling to make it as it is, and if you are out of the house, it will just make it easier.’”
According to the report, history of trauma, stigmatization, rejection and abuse cause LGBTQ youth and adults to experience higher rates of mental health problems and substance abuse.
“We know that a certain percentage of people have mental health conditions, and when they face family rejection that just exacerbates it,” Carlino says. “You’re talking about bouncing from homeless shelter to homeless shelter – that exacerbates it. Then, you’re talking about living on the street – that exacerbates it. All of that makes naturally occurring mental health conditions even worse.”
About four percent of people in the United States identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual, but those individuals makeup eight percent of the population in correctional facilities across the country. Carlino says the rate is even more disproportionate for those who identify as transgender. And LGBTQ people face danger in correctional facilities because of discrimination against their sexual or gender identity. Carlino says he’s worried that Texas officials may not be willing to listen to his recommendations for how to help the LGBTQ community.
“We certainly want to look at arrest-diversion initiatives,” Carlino says. “These prevent people, even with felony charges, from being swept up into the justice system in the first place.”
Written by Brooke Vincent.