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June 2, 2020

Advocating for LGBTQ+ criminal justice

While many LGBTQ+ pride festivities have been forced to move events to a virtual platform, a Michigan State University ally is ensuring the community remains visible in her field all year-round – and around the world.

Christina DeJong, a professor in the School of Criminal Justice, is collaborating with global scholars to establish a new entity in the American Society of Criminology called the Division on Queer Criminology. The division will include 150 researchers, focusing on creating more inclusive and informed criminal justice practices for the LGBTQ+ internationally.

DeJong is currently concentrating her research in two areas of the trans community and the field of criminal justice. The first examines the health and well-being of incarcerated trans people; the other studies how trans victims of homicide are addressed in the media.

“Unfortunately, media coverage of trans murder victims frequently includes their deadnames or refers to them by the incorrect pronouns,” DeJong said. “We want to make sure that trans people’s identities are respected.”

DeJong is also researching the discrimination against and criminalization of LGBTQ+ people internationally, including local factors driving the legal practices and policies.

“In many countries, gay men take the brunt of the abuse, as their relationships are perceived to threaten traditional, toxic notions of masculinity,” DeJong said.

The United Nations doesn’t recognize such actions as genocide, but DeJong hopes to inform, influence and create change.

“There are 10 distinct stages of genocide and in countries that criminalize and enforce a death penalty for ‘homosexuality.’” DeJong said. “It is extremely alarming and needs to be taken very, very seriously.”

DeJong’s passion for queer criminology started in 2008 when she began studying genocide — which also coincided with California’s Proposition 8 law, which criminalized same-sex marriage in the state until a federal court deemed it unconstitutional in 2013.

“At the time I was studying genocide through the lens of criminology. As I witnessed how the United States was marginalizing the LGBTQ+ community, I recognized the early stages of genocide — particularly discrimination, dehumanization and polarization,” DeJong said. “I connected with scholars already doing this work and have been actively studying queer criminology ever since.”

DeJong is constantly changing the course of her research after learning more about the gender spectrum through her experiences as a core faculty member at the MSU Center for Gender in Global Context.

“My older research focused on disparities between women and men in the criminal justice system, but as my understanding of gender developed, I realized that my research needed to be more inclusive,” DeJong said. “Our entire criminal justice system is based around the existence of only two genders — male and female — and that is extremely harmful for people of diverse gender expressions and experiences.”

Learn more about Dr. DeJong and her research here.

By: Liz Schondelmayer