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SPLC sues Trump administration for records detailing rollback of protections for transgender people in prison

The SPLC, along with Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, sued the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) today.

The suit asks a judge to compel the federal agencies to produce all documents and communications related to a Trump administration decision that weakens protections for transgender people in prison.

The lawsuit comes after the DOJ and the BOP failed to produce records in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request in June for the relevant records.

The records that the SPLC and partner organization Lambda Legal requested through FOIA concerned the safe housing of transgender people who are incarcerated in the federal prison system.

“There is no penological reason that could justify the BOP’s decision to roll back protections for transgender people in the federal prison system,” said David Dinielli, deputy legal director for the SPLC. “Instead, it appears that the BOP may have acted at the behest of the Alliance Defending Freedom, an SPLC-designated anti-LGBT hate group that has defended state-sanctioned sterilization of transgender people abroad, and has recommended use of the terms ‘cross-dressing’ and ‘sexually confused’ in place of the term transgender. Through this lawsuit, we hope to uncover what the BOP considered when amending its housing policy, including whether the changes reflect merely its own biases and/or those of an outside, anti-LGBT group.”

The Transgender Offender Manual – which provided staff guidance to protect transgender people in prison – was issued in January 2017. It followed a U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics report in 2014 that more than one in three transgender people in prison said they had experienced sexual abuse by either staff or other incarcerated people in the previous year.

Changes to the Transgender Offender Manual, which were announced by the Trump administration in May, weaken protections for incarcerated transgender people – who are already 10 times more likely than the general prison population to be targeted for violence – and undercut compliance with the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act as well as constitutional protections. 

The manual specifically sought to facilitate implementation of the Prison Rape Elimination Act, passed by Congress in 2003, to address startling statistics showing crisis levels of sexual abuse and assault of people in prison, particularly lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and gender nonconforming people.

The Trump administration’s changes to the manual specifically instructed that incarcerated transgender people be housed according to their “biological sex” and should be placed according to their gender identity “only in rare cases” and where there has been “significant progress” toward transition – without providing guidance on how to determine a person’s “biological sex” or whether the person has made “significant progress” toward transition.

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