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  • Writer's pictureJ. L. Day

The Unblind Eyes of Justice: TGNC People and the American Courts

The System

Like all Americans, transgender and gender nonconforming (TGNC) people live within a capitalist society, in which the creation and enforcement of laws is deeply rooted in the perpetuation of wealth and class status. Further, TGNC people face substantial discrimination throughout American society, facing increased rejection in employment opportunities, housing, healthcare, and the obtaining of identity documents. The compounding of these two factors means that TGNC individuals are less likely to obtain substantial wealth or status and, therefore, are more likely to face increased encounters with police, jails/prisons, and—most pertinent here—the courts. Take into consideration the following statistics, which touch upon the overall inability of TGNC people to achieve the wealth necessary to avoid interactions with the criminal legal system (CLS):

  1. 47% of TGNC people have been unhoused at some point in their life

  2. 29% have been turned away from homeless shelters due to their transgender status

  3. 14% TGNC unemployment rate; compared to 7% overall

  4. 15% of TGNC people have household income below $10,000/yr; compared to 4% overall

  5. 19% of TGNC people have been refused a home or apartment due to their gender identity and 11% have been evicted due to their gender identity

Due to those factors outlined above, TGNC people are more likely to face the American court system at some point in their lives when compared to gender conforming individuals. In those interactions, there is clear discrimination against TGNC folks based upon their gender identities.

The Courts

TGNC people face specific exclusion within the American court system. Judges and court staff commonly misuse pronouns, inflate issues with government-issued identification, and are common practitioners of deadnaming. This laces all the court proceedings with explicit tones of dehumanization that profoundly affect how that TGNC person interacts with the court. Certainly, these are all part of a larger trend of explicit rejection of TGNC individuals by many within the court system, sometimes going as far as judges making a show of rejecting the legitimacy of a TGNC person's identity.

“The eyes of justice are blind,” is the old adage [ironically, the blindfold was originally added to "Lady Justice" satirically]; but, for transgender and gender nonconforming people, nothing could be farther from the truth. Their existence is criminalized in a way that increases their interactions with the courts and those interactions seek to criminalize and dehumanize them further. In a truly blind court system, such explicit anecdotes and data should not create a clear picture that shows the enforcement of a permanent underclass for some of those within a society. As a first step, American courts should find a way to make this adage truth.

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