The Slatest

Trump Administration Gets Rid of Obama-Era Rules That Protected Transgender Inmates

Attorney General Jeff Sessions testifies during a hearing before the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee on April 26, 2018 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions testifies during a hearing before the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee on April 26, 2018 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

The Bureau of Prisons is going back to some of its old ways when it comes to handling transgender inmates. The rewritten Transgender Offender Manual makes clear that from now on “biological sex” and not gender identity are to be used to assign housing and bathrooms. The manual, which had been updated shortly before President Trump took office, called on prisons to “recommend housing by gender identity when appropriate.” That line has now been struck out in the new version that was posted online Friday.

The new guidelines point out that “the designation to a facility of the inmate’s identified gender would be appropriate only in rare cases.” To determine placement, the Transgender Executive Council can use the health and safety of the inmate to figure out where they should be housed. In a seemingly small but key change, the word “necessary” was added to a spot where it didn’t previously appear. “Hormone and other necessary treatment may be provided after an individualized assessment of the requested inmate by institution medical staff,” the new guidelines state. That word indicates “the agency will make determinations about what sort of hormone therapies and other gender transition services are required,” pointed out BuzzFeed News, which was first to report the changes in the guidelines.

The change comes after four women filed a lawsuit in Texas targeting the rules for transgender inmates. The evangelical Christian women said that they were at increased danger because they were being forced to live with transgender women.

It is transgender inmates who will face increased risks of violence due to these changes, transgender rights advocates said. “Once again, the Trump Administration is turning its back on those most vulnerable. It is well established that transgender prisoners—particularly transgender women housed in men’s facilities—suffer much greater rates of sexual abuse than other prison populations,” said Richard Saenz, a staff attorney at Lambda Legal. “There is no justification for this policy shift; it is a deliberate recipe for violence against transgender people based in inexcusable prejudice.”

The National Center for Transgender Equality also emphasized the new dangers that transgender inmates will face, calling the changes a “direct threat to the safety of transgender people in our nation’s prisons.” It also noted that the new rules are “in direct defiance of the Prison Rape Elimination Act, which mandates prison officials must screen all individuals at admission and upon transfer to assess their risk of experiencing abuse.”