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Tennessee Private Prison Gets State’s First LGBTQ+ Group

As reported in Filter Magazine on July 26, 2023, Tennessee’s South Central Correctional Facility (SCCF) has become the birthplace of “Be the Change” (BTC), the first known openly LGBTQ+ community in any of the state’s 14 prisons.

A private medium-security prison operated for the state Department of Corrections (DOC) by CoreCivic, SCCF is where prisoner Tavaria Merritt came out as gay in 2014. At once she became aware of the harms faced by queer and trans prisoners – targeted by both prison gangs and staff. In a letter, Merritt outlined her vision of a safe and accepting community for LGBTQ+ prisoners and distributed 100 copies, sparking the birth of BTC.

The group now counts 60 members, though it operates informally since CoreCivic does not permit prisoner-led organizations. Partnership with Unitarian Universalists allows BTC to secure regular meeting slots in the chapel, where members get LGBTQ+ updates, opinion talks and life skills programs. There are also support groups for trans prisoners and harm reduction classes, the latter vital due to the prevalence of drugs.

Merritt credits the group’s collective strength for recognition from gang leaders in the prison, allowing for conflict resolution between the groups. She also said that staff had not posed significant problems, adding that she even hopes BTC might get its own living unit pod if membership grows.

As PLN has reported, surveys by the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics reveal LGBTQ+ prisoners are disproportionately targeted for both sexual violence and punishment in isolation. [See: PLN, Sep.2022, p.38.]  

Source: Filter Magazine

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