A legal battle is brewing, seeking to nullify a California law that requires transgender prisoners be housed in a female facility if they claim female identity, The Hill reports.
At issue is a law passed in 2020. It requires the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to allow transgender and non-binary prisoners to be housed in prisons according to their gender identity instead of the gender they were assigned at birth.
In addition, the law requires the state to consider transgender and non-binary prisoners’ own perception of safety in all housing assignments, the May 10 story noted.
In May a motion was filed to intervene on behalf of four incarcerated transgender women and the Transgender Gender-Variant and Intersex Justice Project. The group included Lambda Legal, the Transgender Law Center, the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California, and pro-bono co-counsel O’Melveny and Myers.
In November 2021 the law was challenged by a self-described “radical feminist” organization called the Women’s Liberation Front, representing four incarcerated women and California nonprofit Woman II Woman. The organization’s lawsuit claims that the law is being exploited by “hundreds of men” who seek to transfer to women’s facilities, and that this has increased sexual violence.
The suit alleges that the law puts cisgender women (those who identify with the gender they were assigned at birth) in danger, and seeks a permanent injunction to stop implementation.
“[The law] cannot be applied in any manner that avoids violating the federal and state constitutional rights of plaintiffs,” including the right to be safe from sexual assault or harassment, the lawsuit said.
The filing also claims that incarcerated women are coerced into “using speech that reflects a belief to which a woman does not subscribe … in the form of pronouns that are self-selected by a person claiming a gender identity.” In addition, the group claims that the law violates a woman’s “sincerely held religious beliefs” by forcing her to live with or undress before men other than a spouse or immediate family member.
According to the motion, two of the prisoners the groups represent are currently housed in CDCR facilities designated for men and they regularly face sexual violence — from prisoners and staff alike — based on their gender identity.
The coalition argues that the organization’s lawsuit is intentionally misleading on the issue of gender identity, rehashing “sensationalist and debunked claims about transgender women supposedly perpetrating violence.” They also believe CDCR is unlikely to “vigorously” defend the law.
“[I]t is a law that they not only refuse to fully implement, but regularly violate,” the motion said. “These women … are entitled to have their voices heard in this litigation to preserve their rights, and the protections afforded under California law.”
Tremayne Carroll is one of the transgender women represented by the coalition. She is currently housed in a women’s prison and fears what will happen if the organization’s lawsuit succeeds.
“If these plaintiffs get what they want, I’ll be sent back to a men’s prison, where I would face relentless sexual harassment and the constant threat of rape,” Carroll said in a statement. “That was my reality for years, and I am terrified to go back. I am a woman, and I don’t belong in a men’s prison.”