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Crime & Justice

LA's jail has the only 'gay wing' for male inmates

Inside the K6G, the
Inside the K6G, the "gay wing" of the LA County Men's Central Jail, inmates hosted an impromptu fashion show for a reporter on scene to document this area of the facility.
Ani Ucar/ Courtesy LA Weekly

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The Men's Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles houses some of the area's most violent offenders, many inside on drug and gang related charges.

But life is a little easier for some behind bars where there is a special wing just for gay and transgender inmates.

It's the only one of its kind in a major city, and L.A. Weekly writer Ani Ucar says that it was made to protect these prisoners from the violence and harassment they might face in the general population side of the jail.

"There was no racial divide among the inmates, there were no gang politics," she says. "They made it a safe space for themselves."

It was created in 1985 after an ACLU lawsuit forced the Department of Corrections to create this wing. Today, about 140 inmates reside in the facility.

Despite the fun that was on display when she was visiting, Ucar says that it is still a jail where some men told her it's not all fun and games.

"When you talk with any of them individually, they'll tell you it is hell in there for them," she says.

Many came to this wing on drug-related charges, and several talked about their poor lives on the outside.

"A lot of them come from broken families whose families have disowned them, don't have anybody to go back to when they're released," she says, "so in this part of the jail they've found a family for themselves."

Ucar also says there are some straight inmates who try to be placed inside the gay wing.

"They've found out that, I guess, it's a more pleasant place to spend your time because of the lack of violence that exists on the general population side," she says.

Authorities then have to screen inmates to assess whether that person is indeed gay or transgender.

Most of that process is in the form of questions: do you go to gay bars? Which ones? What's it like inside?

However that is problematic because, for example, you can be gay and have never been to a gay bar.

"That was a big critique I heard," Ucar says. "The questions do seem geared to one specific type of gay person."

She says at the moment there hasn't been a better way for deputies to screen these inmates, but perhaps in the future they might work with local organizations to develop a process.

Read more of Ani Ucar's story, "In the Gay Wing of L.A. Men's Central Jail, It's Not Shanks and Muggings But Hand-Sewn Gowns and Tears."