OPINION: Incarceration cannot invalidate transgender lives

By Margaret Smith, Copy Editor

Shane Tolentino

Nearly one out of every six transgender Americans will face jail time in their life, according to LGBTQ advocacy group Lambda Legal. More than one-third of those inmates will be sexually assaulted, whereas only 4 percent of the general inmate population will be assaulted. According to a 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, transgender inmates are five times as likely to be assaulted by staff and 10 times as likely at the hands of other inmates. These disturbing numbers reveal our culture’s dismissal of transgender lives.

The target on the backs of transgender inmates is painted long before they’ve reached prison doors. Transgender inmates are misgenderedand and placed in incorrect facilities. The refusal to recognize transgender individuals as their real gender is a gross misuse of power. The injustices continue inside of the facilities: Transgender inmates are refused medical treatment, sent to solitary confinement for longer periods of time and routinely lied about behind bars, often regarding their bodies.

The prison system has taken the restraints and shame placed on transgender people every day and introduced those oppressive measures into the life of the inmate. This carryover of hate is a betrayal of progressive ideology. Moreover, the ability for legal officials to go unchecked displays something sinister. It explicitly tells the transgender community it does not matter. The doubling down on biological sex as an excuse to misgender an individual reveals the limited awareness, education and training officials have, as well as how ill-equipped they are to handle proceedings as society progresses around them.

A select few cases have reached some sort of triumph. After a year-long legal battle, Strawberry Hampton, a transgender woman, was finally moved in late December 2018 from an all men’s maximum-security prisonto a facility that houses women. Following Hampton’s lawsuit, a federal judge ordered all corrections staff to attend training on transgender issues. This is a victory, but in a sea of transphobia and people jumping at the opportunity to invalidate a transgender person, the goal posts are still in the distance.

Education and the dismantling of oppressive ideology is necessary from the inside out. There needs to be more support and defense for transgender individuals. The court and prison systems deal with virtually all walks of life, and their disbelief and downplay of others’ existence is nearsighted and unjust. To make the necessary corrections that are due to the transgender community, we have to hold officials accountable for their bigoted actions, especially as these officials are sworn to represent the inherent freedoms in America. Rewriting the past is not possible, but accountability and a promise of future justice is.