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California
prisons to allow gay family visits

California
prisons to allow gay family visits

Gay and lesbian inmates in California prisons will have equal access to conjugal visits from their registered domestic partners, the state agency said last week after prodding from the American Civil Liberties Union.

The change followed an application last year from convicted burglar Vernon Foeller, 40, of Sacramento, whose partner contacted the ACLU after being denied a family visit to the state's Vacaville facility.

The state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation ultimately allowed the couple an overnight family visit a week before Christmas. On Wednesday, the agency held a public hearing toward bringing its regulations in line with California's domestic-partner law.

Foeller, who was serving a 20-month term, was released last month and testified at the hearing.

"I heard from a lot of people inside the prison who thought it was a step forward," he told Gay.com on Monday. "People who are doing life terms, or even seven to life, can't get family visits, and they saw what I was doing as a step to roll that back."

In written testimony to the prison board, Foeller's partner of nearly seven years said the family visits were especially important because "the attitudes of other inmates, visitors, and staff" made him feel uncomfortable in the regular visiting room.

The change will affect all gay men and lesbians among California's more than 170,000 incarcerated residents, ACLU staff attorney Alex Cleghorn said in the statement.

Foeller, meanwhile, is getting back to work as a DJ and remix engineer. He, his partner, and Cleghorn all plan to march with the ACLU's float this year in San Francisco's pride parade. (Barbara Wilcox, The Advocate)

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