A recent California bill has prompted over 200 transgender inmates in California correctional facilities to request relocation to a facility that aligns with their gender identity.
SB 132, which took effect in January, allows for inmates that are transgender, non-binary or intersex to file a request to be moved to a correctional facility that recognizes their gender identity, reports the Los Angeles Times.
There have been 261 requests since the bill was passed.
The bill also requires correctional staff to ask an inmate’s gender identity and preferred pronouns in a private setting, seeking to prevent staff from “failing to consistently use the gender pronoun and honorific an individual has specified in verbal and written communications with or regarding that individual that involve the use of a pronoun or honorific.”
The bill is considered revolutionary for members of the transgender community, who face an entirely different set of struggles in addition to the ones already present from being held in a correctional facility.
Fear of changing in front of inmates and even discipline from correctional staff “after fighting back when an inmate in her cell asked for oral sex,” are among the issues that transgender people face while incarcerated.
Some 59 percent of California inmates who were transgender also said they experienced some sort of sexual assault while incarcerated, and were 13 times more at risk of experiencing sexual assault while being incarcerated than others, according to a UC Irvine study.
According to the Vera Institute of Justice, transgender inmates are also more likely to “end up on a path towards incarceration, and more likely to experience severe prejudice and violence—sometimes fatal—once incarcerated.”
While allowing transgender men and women to request a transfer to a facility that houses their gender identity is a large step in support of LGBTQ rights, pushback has emerged since the bill was passed.
Transphobia and homophobia persists amongst inmates and correctional staff. The Los Angeles Times reports that staff at the Chowchilla Central California Women’s Facility told female inmates that “men are coming,” regarding the transgender women who were being transfered to their facility.
One example is Michelle Calvin, a transgender woman who was transferred to the Chowchilla facility in February. Although welcomed into the facility, Calvin also was denied as a roommate from cisgender inmates and faced rumors that circulated throughout the facility.
“The complaints from the cis [gender] women here are that these are men coming here and they’ve been traumatized by men and so they shouldn’t have to live with them,” said Mychal Concepcion, a transgender man living in the Chowchilla facility in the article.
“I have repeatedly said that they’re women, but their anger gets directed towards me.”
The fear among many cisgender women in the Chowchilla facility arises from negative experiences or abuse from men, causing them to be wary of cisgender men posing as transgender women.
The judgement also arises from a general lack of education regarding LGBTQ+ rights and believing that transgender women moving into the facility means that “male inmates will infiltrate this prison system and cause problems,” said the article.
And although many of the transgender women applying for transfer are actually transgender, the fear still exists that cisgender men might pose as transgender, nonbinary or intersex in an attempt to live in the women’s facility.
While only transferring four inmates of the 261 requests, none of the requests have been denied yet, just slowed by the implications of the coronavirus pandemic and issues of crowding within facilities.
California isn’t the only state working to address transgender rights in the criminal justice system.
Just last week Virginia banned the use of trans-panic as a defense against murder or manslaughter, the first state in the south to do so.
The bill was introduced by Danica Roem, who was the first openly transgender woman to be elected to a U.S. state legislature in 2018.
California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Washington and the District of Columbia are the only other places that have banned the trans-panic defense.
Still, transphobia continues to persist as groups retaliate against legislation boasting LGBTQ+ rights, like the Supreme Court’s ruling in January 2020 that an employee can’t be fired based on the premise that they’re transgender or gay in January.
“All we’re really hoping for is connection and compassion,” said Kelly Blackwell, a transgender woman still awaiting transfer from the men’s facility.
Additional Reading: Anti-Transgender Legislation Boom in 2021 Called a ‘Culture War’
Emily Riley is a TCR Justice Reporting intern.