Transgender prisoner wins fight for proper location

On 23 October 2015, 26-year-old transgender woman Tara Hudson was sent to a male prison, sparking serious fears for her safety. She had pleaded guilty to assault and was sentenced to 12 weeks’ imprisonment. She was then sent to Bristol prison, a Category B local gaol with a track record of violence, according to the prisons inspectorate.

After an online petition reached 140,000 signatures, and after demonstrations outside Bristol Crown Court, Tara was moved to Eastwood Park, a female prison, in South Gloucestershire, where she said she was ‘ten times happier’. Before the move, Tara was confined to her cell for 23 hours a day and during the brief periods she was unlocked was subjected to verbal sexual abuse from other inmates.

While Tara has undergone more than six years of surgery, has received treatment for hormones and depression, has lived her entire adult life as a woman, and is medically recognised by her doctor, she is still legally recognised as male; her passport says as much. Upon her sentencing, a Prison Service spokesman said: ‘It is long-standing policy to place offenders according to their legally recognised gender.’ Tara would have needed a Gender Recognition Certificate, but this would have cost £140 and, according to James Morton of the Scottish Transgender Alliance: ‘You send in a big wad of documents and then they pick those apart and they send you back a “legalese” document complaining that various parts aren’t in order and people get incredibly stressed out about it.’

As echoed by Jane Fae in the New Statesman, the entire procedure is intrusive, a ‘gender tax’, and no trans person needs to have their own identity validated by a panel of non-trans people. Also, according to prison rules, some transgender people are ‘sufficiently advanced in the gender reassignment process’ to warrant being placed ‘in the state of their acquired gender’, despite legal status, but similar criticisms abide here; it should only be up to the respective transgender person to determine their own gender status.

Worldwide, Amnesty International reports that LGBT prisoners are at risk of torture, ill-treatment and violence. Trans women in male prisons are 13 times more likely to be sexually assaulted than if they weren’t incarcerated.

On the same day that Hudson was sentenced, US prison pen-pal organisation Black & Pink released the largest LGBT prison survey yet. It stated that:

  • 70% of those surveyed had experienced discrimination and/or verbal harassment from prison staff
  • A third had been sexually assaulted by another inmate
  • Nearly all had been strip-searched, sometimes daily
  • 44% had been denied access to hormones
  • Only 21% had access to gender-appropriate underwear and cosmetics
  • 75% had been held in jail before trial, due to not being able to afford bail. Over half of these had been held for at least a year
  • 85% had spent times in solitary confinement

While it is good news that the campaign to have Tara moved was successful, it is unacceptable that this was an issue in the first place; on 13 November another trans woman prisoner Vicky Thompson was found dead at Leeds men’s prison. We must reject these brutal measures that expect transgender people to assimilate into the heteropatriarchal system that brutalises so many LGBT lives. We must express our solidarity with every LGBT prisoner, and fight alongside them.

Liam Whear

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 248 December 2015/January 2016


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