Trump administration rolls back transgender prison protections

The Bureau of Prisons will use "biological sex" to determine where prisoners are housed.

CANON CITY, CO: Transgender inmates at the Colorado Territorial Correctional Facility on May 4, 2018. CREDIT: Joe Amon/The Denver Post via Getty Images
CANON CITY, CO: Transgender inmates at the Colorado Territorial Correctional Facility on May 4, 2018. CREDIT: Joe Amon/The Denver Post via Getty Images

On Friday night, the Trump administration released new rules that change the way transgender people in prison are assigned housing, in a move that advocates said targeted the most vulnerable and posed a “direct threat to the safety of transgender people in our nation’s prisons.”

Before the notice, for instance, a transgender woman could expect to be housed in a women’s prison, but under the new guidance she would be placed in a men’s prison because of her sex assigned at birth.

Advertisement

“Once again, the Trump Administration is turning its back on those most vulnerable. It is well established that transgender prisoners – particularly transgender women housed in men’s facilities – suffer much greater rates of sexual abuse than other prison populations,” said Lambda Legal’s Richard Saenz in a statement.

The federal government’s own statistics show that 34 percent of transgender prisoners report sexual victimization, compared to 4 percent of all federal prisoners. A California study found that in prison, transgender people are 13 times more likely to be sexually assaulted than non-transgender people.

The rollback happened after “four evangelical Christian women in a Texas prison sued in US District Court to challenge the Obama-era guidelines, and claimed sharing quarters with transgender women subjected them to dangerous conditions,” as Buzzfeed, which initially reported the rule change, said Friday night.

The new notice deleted from the Transgender Offender Manual this sentence: “The TEC [Transgender Executive Council] will recommend housing by gender identity when appropriate.” It then detailed how the TEC should assess assignments on a “case-by-case basis” — beginning with using biological sex as the “initial determination” for assignment, then considering the inmate’s health, safety, behavioral history, and then the “management and security of the institution.”

Advertisement

“The designation to a facility of the inmate’s identified gender would be appropriate only in rare cases after the consideration of all of the above factors and where there has been significant progress towards transition as demonstrated by medical and mental health history,” the new guidance concludes.

The threats to transgender prisoners are not limited to physical violence — a survey found that prison staff refused hormone therapy to 44 percent transgender, non-binary gender, and Two-Spirit respondents. The vast majority of survey respondents said they were refused undergarments that fit their gender.

The National Center for Transgender Equality in a press release called the move a “direct threat to the safety of transgender people in our nation’s prisons.”

It also argued that the change “stands in direct defiance of the Prison Rape Elimination Act, which mandates prison officials must screen all individuals at admission and upon transfer to assess their risk of experiencing abuse.”

This move, long feared by the LGBTQ community, was just another in a long line of actions the Trump administration has taken that threaten the rights of transgender people. The administration has attempted (with limited success) to ban transgender people from serving in the military, relying on junk science. It also reversed a rule that prevented health care providers from discriminating based on gender identity.

The policy change affects some of the most vulnerable people in some of the most vulnerable places in the country.

“The extreme rates of physical and sexual violence faced by transgender people in our nation’s prisons is a stain on the entire criminal justice system,” said executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, Mara Keisling in a release.