Bill rehousing transgender inmates moves to Newsom’s desk

State Sen. Scott Wiener and advocates urge the passing of “life-saving” legislation

A bill allowing transgender people held in state prisons to be housed by their gender identity awaits a final decision from Gov. Gavin Newsom.

State Sen. Scott Wiener, author of Senate Bill 132, the Transgender Respect, Agency, and Dignity Act, on Tuesday joined transgender activists who are or were incarcerated and LGBTQ rights advocates to discuss the importance of the “life-saving” bill and urge Newsom to sign it.

Fancy Lipsey, a member of the SB-132 coalition, said the bill will give incarcerated trans people like herself the rehabilitation required to better themselves and eventually make it out into the community.

“It gives me the opportunity to be the woman that I know I can be,” she said over the phone. “I’m so grateful that I don’t have to suffer anymore, you know? I was severely beaten last year, […] and I’m just so tired of having to suffer. So, I really appreciate you [Senator], I really appreciate it.”

Transgender people incarcerated in California prisons are automatically housed based on their assigned gender at birth, unless the individual has undergone sex-reassignment surgery or has been referred to a classification committee after a medical evaluation.

If Newsom signs the bill, it would require the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to record incarcerated transgender people’s self-reported gender identity, first name, gender pronouns and honorifics. It would additionally require for a person who is transgender, nonbinary or intersex to be housed “in a correctional facility designated for men or women based on the individual’s preferences.” The housing process could take anywhere from around 30 to 90 days before an individual is transferred.

Wiener, who represents San Francisco, said that incarcerated transgender people, especially trans women, are at a higher risk of physical and sexual violence from inmates and prison guards.

A 2015 United States Transgender Survey found that of respondents held in jail, prison or juvenile detention, nearly one-quarter (23%) were physically assaulted by staff or other inmates, and one in five (20%) were sexually assaulted. The survey also found that “respondents were over five times more likely to be sexually assaulted by facility staff than the U.S. population in jails and prisons, and over nine times more likely to be sexually assaulted by other inmates.”

“SB-132 will[…] ensure that that trans people in prison are treated with [the] respect and dignity that they deserve as human beings and that includes being addressed [with their] actual name and requested pronouns,” Wiener said, via Zoom. “[It also includes] being searched according to [the search policy for their gender identity] and being housed in the safest possible way.”

Michelle Calvin, an incarcerated trans woman and member of the SB-132 coalition, said she had faced abuse and mistreatment from fellow inmates and prison staff during her 15 years being housed at Mule Creek Prison, a men’s facility.

“This is an amazing time for us trans women. I’ve been going through abuse for the last 15 years incarcerated with staff and other inmates in here that I don’t feel comfortable being around,” Calvin said. “I’m so happy and honored to have this done. […] I feel in my heart [Newsom] is going to sign it because it’s time for change, it’s truly time for change.”

Wiener said he is “cautiously optimistic” the governor will sign the bill. If he does, the law would go into effect Jan. 1.

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