Why 'Queering Law and Order' Is Urgent

June 23, 2020

Professor Kevin Nadal talks about his latest book, which looks at how the criminal justice system has treated LGBTQ people, including LGBTQ people of color, and the consequences.

Kevin Nadal
Kevin Nadal

Professor Kevin Nadal (GC/John Jay, Psychology), whose Graduate Center courses include Queer Psychology and Diversity in Clinical Psychology, says it’s “amazing to work with students who are so committed to social justice issues — a quality that was missing from previous generations.” Nadal has a new book out that will be of interest to those students and anyone else looking to challenge the status quo: Queering Law and Order: LGBTQ Communities and the Criminal Justice System. In an interview with The Graduate Center, Nadal spoke about the book, the anniversary of the Stonewall uprising, and more. 

The Graduate Center: Tell us about the book.

Nadal: My book covers the history of LGBTQ people and the justice system — including issues related to police, courts, prisons, legislation, immigration, and family law. It talks about how our system has been discriminatory towards many groups, including LGBTQ people, and how people with multiple marginalized identities (such as LGBTQ people of color) have historically had an even harder time navigating these systems.

GC: What motivated you to tackle this topic and how does your background as a psychologist frame your approach? 

Nadal: I’ve always been interested in social justice, likely due to my experiences as a queer person of color from an immigrant family. I tackled this topic because it simply hasn’t been done before — at least not through the lens that I wanted to do it. I wanted to talk about queer and trans issues within criminal justice through an intersectional lens and to cover a broad range of issues related to the justice system. As a psychologist, it was also very important for me to highlight all of the mental health consequences of our faulty system and to include information from community resources and personal narratives, so that people understood that actual human lives were at stake. 

GC: The book is described as a call to action for LGBTQ rights advocates. What should advocates, or people interested in becoming advocates, be doing? 

Nadal: People need to have way more conversations and across various groups and systems in their lives. We can no longer sweep these issues under the rug. We need actual policies and major reform on all aspects of the justice system, but particularly regarding ways that our system has been so oppressive towards LGBTQ people and historically marginalized groups.

GC: Police brutality is a big issue right now, thanks to the #BLM protest movement. What should people know about police brutality and the LGBTQ community?

Nadal: I’m very happy that people are using their voices to declare that Black Lives Matter. And I’m even happier to know that many people are understanding that All Black Lives Matter, and specifically paying attention to the ways that Black queer and trans people have been targeted and violently treated by police. When it comes to LGBTQ people, police have never been kind. That was the whole point of Stonewall; it was an uprising against the police. But, in recent years, the treatment of LGBTQ people has been significantly affected by the person’s race. Queer Black people have been brutalized and murdered by police officers. Black and brown transgender women are often profiled or arrested for being sex workers. Queer and trans immigrants are also profiled and harassed by police. So, intersectionalities are important. So are issues like whether or not a person can pass, or whether a person is of a higher or lower social class.

GC: This June marks 51 years since the Stonewall Inn rebellion. Many of those targeted by police, and who rose up in protest, were Black and Latinx. What are your thoughts looking back on that event? 

Nadal: History has whitewashed Stonewall significantly — sometimes intentionally (e.g., the fictional movie Stonewall from a few years back) or unintentionally (e.g. omitting the narrative of the rioters being Black and brown street kids, homeless kids, many who were transgender or gender nonconforming). We need to remember this. We also need to remember that Stonewall was an uprising. It wasn’t a peaceful protest. It was the only way that LGBTQ people could vocalize their concerns and be taken seriously. It took the rioting plus the media coverage to result in some new police policies towards LGBTQ people. So, without rioting, the LGBTQ community might not have the rights we have today.