Finally, Some Good News for Transgender Americans
Over the past few years, the United States has seen an explosion of laws and policies related to transgender individuals. While a majority of proposed laws seek to deprive trans people of access to sports, public accommodations, health care, etc., some aim to increase the rights of trans people. One example of a pro-trans law passed recently is California’s Senate Bill 132, also known as “The Transgender Respect, Agency, and Dignity Act.”
So, what does this law do? When California’s Department of Corrections (jails, prisons, etc.) takes anyone into custody, the department is now required to ask the person to share their gender identity, pronouns (he/she/they), and whether they identify as transgender, nonbinary, or intersex. Department staff is prohibited from using incorrect pronouns or honorifics (Mr./Ms./Mx.) to refer to that individual. While incarcerated, a transgender, nonbinary, or intersex individual must be allowed to state a preference for whether a male or female officer searches them, and whether they will be placed in a men’s or women’s correctional facility. However, the preference can be denied if there is a concern for the health, safety, and security of staff or other inmates.
Opposition and Support
As expected, many have lambasted this law for putting incarcerated women at risk. Female prisoners have expressed fear that male inmates will lie about being trans to be transferred to women’s prisons. Female correctional officers are concerned they will have to perform strip searches on individuals with male anatomy. Conservative groups have pointed to the violent records of some trans women, which include convictions of child sexual assault and infanticide as evidence of predatory behavior.
Those in favor of the law find the opposition to be furthering a false narrative that transgender people, especially transgender women, are predators seeking to scam their way into women’s facilities to commit violence. In reality, while transgender individuals make up a little over 1% of California’s prison population, they experience disproportionate rates of physical and sexual violence compared to cisgender inmates.
Many transgender women have expressed relief at the possibility of escaping the discrimination and violence they frequently experience in men’s prisons by other inmates and correctional staff. While their receptions in female facilities have been mixed, some trans women who have already been transferred have been welcomed with care packages and acceptance.
Competing Legal Challenges
Whether the law will stay on the books, however, still remains to be seen. The Women's Liberation Front, a radical feminist group, filed a lawsuit in November arguing that the law is unconstitutional and alleged that there have been multiple sexual assaults committed by trans women recently transferred into female prisons. Three LGBTQ+ organizations, on behalf of a group of transgender inmates, have requested to enter into the case in opposition to this lawsuit, and accused prison officials of regularly violating the law and refusing to fully implement it. Their argument? Only 46 requests to transfer facilities based on gender identity have been approved of the estimated 320 requests submitted, and not all of those approved have been transferred.
Sentiments surrounding the acceptance of transgender people are divided, and we are all entitled to our individual beliefs. But for those who are against California’s law, or who are still on the fence about this issue, take pause, just for a moment. Divisive and complex issues such as these deserve in-depth consideration, not immediate demonization. Transgender individuals are asking to be treated with fairness and respect. So, I ask this: In your life, isn’t that how you want to be treated too?