In a brazen display of its hate-fueled anti-LGBTQIA+ agenda, the Trump administration is retracting Obama-era protections for transgender inmates.
Without these desperately needed protections, which aimed to stop the rampant verbal, physical and sexual harassment transgender inmates face behind prison walls, assailants will go unchecked.
The U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons, which instructs the Transgender Executive Council (TEC) on what factors to consider while deciding the housing of transgender inmates, announced the change on May 11. Now, an inmate’s “biological sex” will determine where prisoners are housed, further endangering transgender inmates in an already hostile environment.
This goes beyond misgendering — transgender inmates are stripped of their identity. This is a cruel and unusual punishment, violating their Eighth Amendment rights. Before, transgender inmates were able to use facilities that corresponded with their gender identities — which will now only be considered in “rare cases,” according to the recently updated Transgender Offender Manual.
Changes to the manual were announced after four cisgender women from a Texas detention center challenged the former policies in court, arguing housing them with transgender women put them at greater risk of rape.
The assumptions made by these four women are glaringly transphobic and feed into the false premise that transgender inmates are more prone to act violently. In a study on California prisons, transgender inmates were found to be 13 times more likely to be sexually assaulted compared to non-transgender inmates.
Just earlier this month, Lindsay Saunders-Velez, a Black transgender woman staying at Colorado Territorial Correctional Facility, was physically and sexually assaulted hours after requesting not to be placed in the facility’s disciplinary cellblock. Saunders-Velez claimed she had been threatened by inmates staying there, but her request was ultimately denied by the judge.
Sixteen percent of transgender adults have been incarcerated, which contrasts with the 2.7 percent of cisgender adults that have faced incarceration. This disproportionate incarceration rate is due to barriers like employment discrimination, greater risks of poverty and being targeted by the police.
Because of the government’s refusal to recognize transgender people as a constitutionally protected class, they are more vulnerable to unemployment and poverty. These barriers to employment make transgender workers nearly four times more likely to have a household income of under $10,000.
There are no federal laws in place that explicitly protect transgender workers. In fact, only 17 states and the District of Columbia offer any form of protections at all.
The updated manual states that the “health” and “safety” of an inmate should be considered when determining housing. But if the health and safety of transgender inmates are truly prime concerns for prison facilities, gender identity would be considered over “biological sex.” Officers would use the correct names and pronouns of inmates. Transgender inmates would have more supportive programs and resources readily available to them.
Instead, transgender inmates will be directly placed in situations that threaten both their health and safety. Many transgender inmates came forward about the cruel treatment they received while incarcerated.
Lesley Webster, a Black transgender woman, opened up about how she was forced to stay in a male facility. During her time there, she faced abuse from officers and solitary confinement for being transgender.
“They cut all my hair off, and they locked me away in a cell for 90 days by myself because they didn’t want to put me with the men and they couldn’t put me with the women,” Webster said in an interview with them., a publication that provides news and commentary through a LGBTQIA+ lens.
When Webster wasn’t in solitary confinement, she was placed in a cellblock called “mental health,” where the prison placed many transgender women.
Placing an inmate in a mental health block for being transgender is blatantly bigoted — being transgender is not a mental illness. This kind of discrimination stems from a long history of pathologizing gender nonconformity and has invalidated and oppressed the LGBTQIA+ community for centuries.
Rolling back these protections for transgender inmates only adds to the transphobic narrative this country has played for years. State legislators must pass policies that oppose these changes in federal prison policy and protect transgender inmates from this outright discrimination and abuse.
Identity is a basic human right. It’s not a privilege that can be revoked.