Being Trans in Texas Prisons: Texas Needs to Do Better

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.

#queer #trans #lgbt #lgbtq #prison #texas #law #lawyer #gnc#criminaljustice #criminaljusticereform

SB 6: Limiting Access to Justice

Senate Bill 6 is being heard in committee tomorrow.  I wanted to add some thoughts to this discussion.


Senate Bill 6 would mandate that public buildings, including government buildings, require people using the facility to use the bathroom corresponding to the gender assigned at birth and placed on the birth certificate.


I represent lots of LGBT people.  Those whom I represent that are accused of crimes, guilty or not, are required to appear before the court presiding over their cases.  This requires their presence in a government building, the county courthouse, which would be covered by this bill.  My clients would be forced to use a bathroom corresponding to the gender assigned at birth while attending court.


My clients do not have a choice to come in the courthouse.  They must or risk consequences.  They do not control how long they will be in that building --- they are not allowed to leave until they are excused by the court.


My clients would be faced with an untenable position – go into a bathroom in which they are not comfortable, do not appear to belong in, and may indeed face real danger in; do not use the bathroom at all; or face consequences for using the “wrong” restroom.


If my clients have to make this choice, it is going to severely limit their abilities to defend themselves from criminal accusations.  They will want to limit the amount of time in court – which means they may not want an extensive plea bargaining process, and they definitely will not want to elect for a trial in which they will have to spend hours upon days in the courthouse in which they will inevitably have to go to the bathroom.


If you do not have sympathy for criminal defendants, think of the witnesses, including the complaining witnesses.  A person should not have to drop charges against someone who has victimized them because going to testify at a county courthouse will involve them having to go into a bathroom in which they do not feel comfortable.  I believe this will limit trans people from seeking justice.


Ultimately, this bill is going to limit access to justice by making courthouses very inhospitable to trans citizens, who should enjoy the same rights to defend themselves or seek justice against people who have victimized them as anyone else.


I ask the committee to refrain from passing this bill out of committee.



Trans Day of Remembrance: Trans People in the Criminal System

Today is TransGender Day of Remembrance.  This day is set aside to remember Trans people lost to violence.  To add my voice to the call for safety and equality for Trans people, I want to point out some of the issues that Trans people deal with in the criminal justice system.


Trans people are overrepresented in both the juvenile and adult criminal system.  Trans youth are a high risk of homelessness due to rejection by their families and therefore may resort to survival type crimes to stay alive – things like sex work, theft, and small time drug distribution.  Sixteen percent of trans adults have been incarcerated—this is 5% higher than the cisgender population.  Again, things typically thought to be survival type crimes are common among poor trans adults – things like sex work and drug distribution.  Not only does this put trans people at a high risk of arrest and incarceration but also violence against their persons.


When incarcerated, trans people report higher rates of assault and sex assault.  Perhaps one third of the trans incarcerated population will be assaulted in some way.  Because of this, jails and prisons should reform their policies to allow trans peope to stay in the unit that they feel is most gender affirming. Jails and prisons should not simply use the sex assigned at birth to determine unit housing for trans people.


Texas Department of Criminal Justice took a radical step forward – finally – in 2015 and allowed for inmates experiencing gender dysphoria to undergo hormone replacement therapy while incarcerated and to live as their true gender.  This means that trans people who go to prison in Texas will not have to gender conform due to regulations and should not have an interruption in their HRT.


The standard of care for Trans people and also our common sense of decency and fairness toward all people demand that Trans people be treated with full equality and be allowed to express their true gender identity regardless of their involvement with the criminal justice system.  They should not be forced to conform to their gender assigned at birth by judges, probation officers, or prison administrators.  Also, we should work to end policies that make it more likely for Trans people to resort to small time, petty crimes for survival purposes that make them vulnerable to arrest and violence. 


We mourn the losses of Trans people and call for universal respect for Trans people and an end to violence.