Recently the LGBT legal advocacy organization Lambda Legal settled a case with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (the agency that administers the penitentiaries in Texas that hopefully will have a positive effect on how Trans prisoners are treated in Texas.
Passion Star was sentenced to a term of confinement in Texas. She is a trans woman. What happened next during her confinement is horrific but all too common. Housed in a male unit yet presenting as (and being, yes, being) a woman, Ms. Star was repeatedly raped and brutalized by the men with whom she was housed.
The stats don't lie. This is the story for trans women in prisons.
The correctional guards and ultimately TDCJ's response was also typical. They ignored her request for help. She also reports that she was re-victimized by CO's who humiliated her and told her to "stop acting gay" if she did not want to be raped.
TDCJ's policy for years, and is currently, to house trans women with men. It does not seem to matter if they have had name and gender marker corrections done to change their gender marker legally to female. It does not seem to matter if they've had any kind of SRS.
Star was also denied secure housing even after the attacks started. Ultimately another prisoner slashed her face with a razor for "snitching".
Lambda Legal said in their announcement that the settlement was agreeable to all parties and also includes a monetary payment for Star and training of prison staff to better protect LGBT people in Texas prison facilities.
My ultimate thoughts on this:
1. TDCJ has agreed to count LGBT inmates much earlier to determine if housing assignments can be made to reduce violence against those prisoners. This is important. However, LGBT inmates should not be "outed" by COs. They should not necessarily be labeled LGBT and then dropped in general population. That idea to protect them may backfire and cause them to be more readily identified by prisoners that will harm them.
2. Special housing is great, and may very well be a solution to the issue. However, segregated custody is not an acceptable solution. Solitary is itself a dangerous, punitive method that an LGBT prisoner should not be subjected to to "keep them safe". Special housing units must also be given the same programming -- substance abuse counseling, mental health treatment, HIV/AIDS treatment, and job training and reentry programming must be made available to all special housing units.
3. TDCJ must stop penalizing gender non conformity. Length of hair requirements, denial of certain hygiene and cosmetic products, and denial of certain items of clothing must end.
4. TDCJ MUST HOUSE WITH GENDER IDENTIFICATION NOT "BIRTH" GENDER. Period. Trans women must go with women. Trans men should be able to choose which housing unit to go to and be allowed to go with men if they choose. (I'm only saying that because trans men may be vulnerable in a male unit. They may also feel vulnerable in female units.)
5. ULTIMATELY -- Texas needs to stop sending so many people, including queer and trans people, to prison. We can safely access alternatives to incarceration. We also need to decriminalize lots of things that queer people may do to survive, including the drug trade, shoplifiting, and sex work.
Its not safe to be trans in this world, but its much more dangerous in prison and TDCJ needs to do better. I hope this is a start.