Jazmynne Young: Treatment of Trans Prisoners and Grassroots Advocacy for Trans Rights

Jazmynne Young is a trans woman and LGBTQ rights activist. She was arrested this summer and held at Valley Street Jail in Manchester, NH for several days on charges of receiving stolen property. The charges were ultimately dropped. She spoke with me about her experiences and some of the poor treatment she experienced in jail as a trans individual, her work to ensure that other trans individuals are not subjected to the same treatment, and her LGBTQ advocacy work in New Hampshire. She is working to create the “Out of the Box Hub,” an LGBTQ community center, in Concord, NH. http://outoftheboxhub.com/. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

 

Tell me about your experience at Valley Street Jail.

I was housed in the men’s unit, but I was kept in a separate cell. They kept me on a different schedule from the other prisoners, so I wasn’t let out to eat, shower, or have recreation at the same time as them. That meant that I wasn’t given access to a phone. I could have posted bail right away if they’d let me call someone, but they wouldn’t let me. Eventually, another prisoner slipped me a note and I wrote him back and asked him to call my mother so I could post bail. But that was only after I’d been there for days.

They wouldn’t give me access to my HIV medication while I was in there, either. I know there was at least one other trans woman in a single cell in the men’s pod at the same time because I could hear the guards talking about her, but I couldn’t see her or talk to her from my cell.

While I was there, the prosecutor and most of the guards misgendered me. It was just awful treatment.

Once you posted bail, what happened to your criminal case?

Well, in the end it was dismissed. I didn’t have a lawyer, but there was a public defender there who overheard my arraignment. She went back to her office and told them about me and how the prosecutor was misgendering me during the arraignment, and they sent a public defender.

The public defender first got the whole thing reduced from a misdemeanor to a violation—like a traffic ticket. Then the prosecutor who took over the case realized that the charges were bullsh*t, and the victim didn’t want to press charges over such a small thing, so it got dropped.

I’m glad that worked out. What is happening with the jail?

For me, what’s most important is that something like that doesn’t happen to anyone else again.

I want to know what they are doing to train their staff to be sure the rules are being implemented.

I’m working with the ACLU in New Hampshire. They got a lot of documents from the jail about their LGBTQ policies, but that doesn’t matter to me if those policies aren’t being implemented and followed. They need the written laws and rules, but I want to know what they are doing to train their staff to be sure the rules are being implemented.

I know you aren’t originally from New Hampshire. What made you decide to stay there after all of this happened?

Well, frankly, at the time, I had no car and no income. There’s no public transportation, even, so at first I didn’t stay by choice. But then I saw the need for LGBTQ services here.

I met with homeless people in Manchester—teenagers even—who were kicked out of their houses for being LGBTQ. I’ve met wealthier people in New Hampshire who don’t come out as LGBTQ because there’s no community—no support.

I met with LGBTQ people in New Hampshire who had left because of the lack of LGBTQ services and culture. They go to Boston, New York, Florida—even Maine! I had to wonder, what is wrong with New Hampshire? Why are these close places so far behind New Hampshire when it comes to LGBTQ services and culture?

If someone was in a situation like I was with the jail, they should have a place to turn.

The LGBTQ community needs a place that provides fun, entertainment, community, resources, and a safe space. If someone was in a situation like I was with the jail, they should have a place to turn.

The people I’ve talked to tell me they don’t realize how far behind New Hampshire is until they leave. Everyone I’ve talked to agrees that New Hampshire needs this—so it’s not just me making it up.

How have you focused your efforts? What has been especially challenging?

Concord, Manchester, and Nashua are considered the cosmopolitan parts of NH, but they’re still far behind other places in the world. There’s nothing going on in Concord for LGBTQ folks. Just look at what goes on in other capitals. Compared to that, there’s nothing here. I’m starting in Concord because, as the capital, it should be the model for the rest of New Hampshire.

What we need here is more visibility and more community. There are a lot of LGBTQ people, but they are not visible, and there are no resources to support them. I hear a lot of allies tell me that they want to help, but they don’t know where to go or what to do.

People I’ve met here have told me that in New England, and New Hampshire in particular, people can have a hard time reaching out beyond the familiar faces they know. To some extent, I expect that from straight or cisgender people, but LGBTQ people really need to be connected and have a visible community.

What we need here is more visibility and more community.

So, I’ve been meeting with a lot of people. I met with the governor’s policy director to tell him about the need for these resources. I met with the new mayor of Manchester. I’ve been circulating a petition. I’m working on registering as a nonprofit, getting a board, registering the name.

I don’t have the money to start this up, but I know how to be an activist and a leader. I know how to set up these organizations and get them running. There’s plenty of money here in New Hampshire.

Where else have you done this kind of work?

I was the secretary of Stonewall Democrats in Nevada and worked for Gender Justice in Nevada and Los Angeles. I worked for an organization called Rainbow House, which was a domestic violence organization that offered support to victims regardless of their sexuality or gender identity or expression. I was on one of the first teams to put together Las Vegas Pride in 2013. It started out as a five-day event, but now it’s six days long. I also started the Las Vegas Trans Glam Gala—an award ceremony for transgender people and their allies—we even had Charlene Moore from the Weather Girls perform!

But I’ve worked in rural areas, too. In Arkansas, I created an organization called “Helping Tranzform-U.” It offered support for transgender people and other people exploring their gender identity and expression. We had donated clothing, and I would take people shopping for clothes that fit their gender identity. I’d also just talk to them and give them coaching. I got a grant from the Trans Justice Funding Project to start that organization, so I’ll probably do the same thing here.

When I lead organizations, it’s important for me to train the next leaders. Some leaders want to be in charge all the time, but I don’t mind being the person who starts things up and lets other people take over. I may not be in New Hampshire for the rest of my life, but I do want to see things change. A true leader teaches other people how to become leaders and learns from people who have more experience than they do.

What are you working on now?

When I have a passion to do something, I can’t rest until I’m done. If I have vision for it, I’m not going to quit until I see some kind of result. Every organization I’ve been part of is still going.

I need to create a board for Out of the Box Hub and register it. I’m talking with someone involved with the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation to work on getting registered as a 501(c)(3).

I’m also working on the board. I need to be sure that the board isn’t dominated by cis white gay men, because that is often the case at these types of organizations. I want Out of the Box Hub to be more representative and inclusive.

I’m getting connected with financial sponsors and resources. There might be philanthropists, or funding from the state, like state HIV programs.

I’m also working on getting a location. I think it might start out as a big New England style house that we can put community spaces and offices in. I don’t care if it’s a foreclosed property as long as it passes inspection. We could even have a community building event to fix it up if we needed to.

I’m also going to be at New England College in Concord from 6:00–8:00pm on December 6. It’s a community discussion—not just for students—so we can raise visibility. There will even be food there. You have to have food!

You can’t change things if you don’t admit there’s something wrong.

Good luck with everything. Any last words before we end the interview?

You can’t change things if you don’t admit there’s something wrong. I understand that people are proud of the place they live—where they’re from—but you have to be able to recognize when there’s a problem and be willing to work to solve it.


Cover art composite of two Creative Commons Images: 1, 2

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Michael is a 2L at HLS. He is interested in LGBTQ rights and immigrant rights. Michael is a co-director of Harvard's Immigration Services Project and volunteers through Harvard Lambda at the Y2Y youth homeless shelter in Harvard Square. He interned with the ACLU of New Hampshire in his 1L summer and plans to pursue a public interest career.

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