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In Federal Lawsuit, Advocacy Group Attacks New California Law That Requires Transgender Prisoners to Be Housed According to Gender Identity

Razor wire guards the Metropolitan Detention Center in Los Angeles, Calif., in a July 14, 2019 file photo. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

Razor wire guards the Metropolitan Detention Center in Los Angeles, Calif., in a July 14, 2019 file photo. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

A federal lawsuit filed by a non-profit for incarcerated women takes aim at a new California law requiring prisons to assign transgender and gender nonbinary inmates to facilities that correspond to their gender identities. Suing together with four incarcerated women, the group, Woman II Woman, claims in its lawsuit that the practice puts female inmates in danger.

The complaint challenges California S.B. 132, also known as “The Transgender Respect, Agency, and Dignity Act.” It asserts that the law “cannot be applied in any manner that avoids violating the federal and state constitutional rights” of women incarcerated in California correctional facilities. The group’s lawsuit, which has been condemned by advocates for transgender people, argues that California’s requirement that prison accommodations correspond to gender identity exposes female inmates to “known, elevated risks of the consequences of sex with men (such as pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases)” and “known, elevated risks of being raped and sexually assaulted by men.”

The complaint goes on to allege that a large proportion of incarcerated women, who account for less than 10% of the total prison population, have been victims of violence and sex abuse perpetrated by men. Many of these women, according to the complaint, have suffered from traumatic brain injury as a result of sexual violence.

The lawsuit claims—without any overarching data to support the assertion—that transgender women are as much to blame for this violence as are cisgender men. Anecdotally, two of the four plaintiffs alleged to have been sexually assaulted in prison by incarcerated people who identified as transgender.

“Male patterns of violence and sexual offending are not lower in the subset of men who claim a ‘gender identity of female’ than in the overall population of men,” the lawsuit claims, without citing evidence. “Regardless of a man’s declared ‘gender identity,’ men remain more likely to intimidate, overpower, harass, abuse, and violate women’s safety and dignity than any such risk posed by women toward men.”

“Regardless of the self-declared ‘gender identity’ of individual men or women, women are placed at heightened risk of sexual violence, sexual harassment, and trauma conditions (such as post-traumatic stress disorder) when forced to share housing quarters with men,” it continues.

The plaintiffs also extol the virtues of women-only correctional facilities.

“Female-only prison spaces have consistently been shown to be effective, and cost-effective, penological methods of enabling female offenders to work through the complex issues involved in their offending and had have the best chance of rehabilitation, release, and assimilation into society,” they wrote.

Plaintiffs further argue that S.B. 132 will require constantly-changing housing accommodations for inmates. They predict that inmates may “be claiming an identity consisting of feeling entirely male one day and entirely female the next day (gender fluidity) or claiming to be neither male nor female (agender; nonbinary), or a feeling that one is 75% male and 25% female (nonbinary).”

The complaint also details the claims of three individual inmates, all of whom have suffered sexual assault and bear ongoing psychological harm from their ordeal: Nadia Romero, a Catholic who “does not believe that sex is determined by a person’s internal identity”; Krystal Gonzalez, who “does not believe that women have penises” and whose “psychological distress caused by her assault is exacerbated by the prison’s refusal to acknowledge the sex of her perpetrator”; and Janine Chandler, a Muslim woman whose “right to privacy and right to exercise her religion are both violated when she is housed in facilities with men.”

The lawsuit argues that S.B. 132 violates multiple state and federal laws and denies women inmates of equal protection under the law. The plaintiffs are asking for a court order declaring the law invalid.

LGBTQ+ advocates have spoken out about the lawsuit.  They’ve specifically called attention to the language used in the complaint.

“The way they wrote [the complaint] is saying that trans women are men and they are putting men in women’s prisons, which is completely false,” said Bamby Salcedo, president and CEO of the TransLatin@ Coalition, which cosponsored S.B. 132. “They’re making a claim that is not accurate and not respectful towards trans women specifically.”

Attorneys for the parties did not immediately respond to request for comment from Law&Crime.


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Elura is a columnist and trial analyst for Law & Crime. Elura is also a former civil prosecutor for NYC's Administration for Children's Services, the CEO of Lawyer Up, and the author of How To Talk To Your Lawyer and the Legalese-to-English series. Follow Elura on Twitter @elurananos