Christian group seeks to roll back transgender prisoner rights

Aviva Stahl writes that a Christian advocacy group known as Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) is seeking to roll back protections that had been put in place in prisons that had enabled transpeople to petition to use bathrooms corresponding to their gender identity.

For Lagan and the other trans women locked up at Carswell, the new policies were a lifeline. They were allowed to escape the pervasive risks they faced in male custody, including sexual and physical assault from prisoners and guards; they frequently ended up in solitary confinement, either as punishment or, perversely, for “protection.”

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, more than one third of transgender people held in prisons and jails experience sexual violence, the highest reported of any demographic group studied; the new policies were meant to ease this burden.

Today, however, a Christian legal advocacy group with a growing national profile, called Alliance Defending Freedom, is working to undo the regulations and policies that helped Langan move to Carswell. Now she is at risk of being sent back into the male prison population.

This isn’t ADF’s first foray into attacking transgender rights. The organization, labeled by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group, and its supporters have pushed several state-level “bathroom bills” — legislation that seeks to restrict transgender people’s rights to use restrooms that align with their gender identity, rather than their gender assigned at birth. In arguing for their clients in the Carswell case, ADF is drawing on the same logic utilized when promoting bathroom bills: recognizing trans people’s gender self-identifications puts cis people in danger.

The plaintiffs in both the Texas and Fleming lawsuits contend that transgender people pose a grave threat to women and girls, despite statistics indicating that trans people (especially those who are poor or people of color) may be at greater risk than their cis peers of being victims — not perpetrators — of physical and sexual violence.

In legal rulings dating as far back as 1991, courts have rejected the argument that sharing space with transgender individuals violates the safety or privacy of cisgender individuals. “The plaintiffs’ claims that the presence of other prisoners who were transgender violated their rights were highly doubtful to begin with, given existing case law,” said Tobin, of the National Center for Transgender Equality. “It is hard to see how they have any standing at all on such claims when they have been transferred to different facilities.”.

This obsession with bathrooms seems to never end. I had a discussion recently with a man who expressed grave discomfort simply with the possibility that he may be sharing a bathroom with someone who is transgender even if he did not know it or even suspect it. The theoretical possibility alone was sufficient to cause him unease though he was unable to articulate exactly what the problem was. When I told him that my daughter’s college had bathrooms that were not segregated by gender and that the students quickly learned to deal with it and she did not report any problems during the four yeas she spent in college, he really had no answer.

This should be one issue that fades away with time as we get used to it. At least I hope so. I am sure that white people in Jim Crow America expressed similar vague unease with sharing facilities with people of color but (at least for most people) that is no longer an issue.


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