Nobody wants to get locked up, although ‘locked up’ is a matter of perspective. There can be people who are out who are in prison mentally and emotionally and worse off than those who are behind bars.
A common theme amongst transgender people is how they describe themselves as being stuck in a bodily prison. It is an easy analogy to understand, you are trapped inside the wrong body and freedom is only realised once you transition. You break out into the world, able to finally express yourself. This liberating experience is, for most, a wonderful time of their lives and they feel true happiness for the first time. You know the gender you are and expect others to understand and respect this.
This is a lovely sentiment but there is a systemic problem within the UK legal system that has brought a terrible issue to forefront of recent media. The UK legal system only recognises transgender people in their preferred gender if they have been through the difficult process of obtaining a Gender Recognition Certificate (GCR). The purpose of this document is legally have your new gender recognised and have a new birth certificate produced. Without this you are still legally the gender assigned at birth in the eyes of the law.
This creates a huge problem when a transgender person, without a GRC, finds themselves being sentenced to a prison term. With all the transgender press of late there has been a spate of stories where trans people have been sent to the wrong prison. Vikki Thompson committed suicide in November this year because she found herself inside a male prison even though she was clearly living as a woman. It is reported that she would kill herself if she was sent to a male prison and this was followed by the death of Joanne Latham two weeks later. The deaths have forced urgent meetings between the Ministry of Justice and prison minister Andrew Selous.
Just weeks before these tragic deaths, a national campaign, saw Tara Hudson moved to a female prison even though she did not have a GRC. Hopefully this has set a precedence and the government will work quickly to find a sensible solution to this obvious red tape nonsense. Work is already under way to force the changes through and a petition has been set-up that I urge all my readers to sign.
This is not just a UK problem and in the US transgender people have been reporting abuse, including rape and violence from fellow inmates. I hope that our sisters and brothers over the water also start to look into their legal system and start to make the necessary changes.
It is so sad that these deaths have to be the catalyst for something that is so simple and obvious. Of course, every case should be taken on its own merits but I feel our modern justice system has failed these individuals and it has been discovered the transgender policies of the prison system were extended in March instead of reviewed. I hope the families get an inquiry that is deserved and the folks who make the decisions on placing prisoners have to answer for their failings.
Earlier this year the Woman and Equalities Committee had an enquiry concerning transgender equality. It has seen evidence presented concerning transgender people in prison and their treatment and although the process is slow hopefully it can help pass new laws about trans people having their gender legally recognised. The problem with the GRC process is its bureaucracy and can take several years if the panel are not happy with the paperwork. It is just another example of society not catching up with transgender issues but should not dampen all the positive attention the trans community is currently receiving.
Both Jazz and Jenner are getting second seasons and Paris Lee did us proud on Question Time recently. Rebecca Root has been receiving praise for her role in Boy Meets Girl and is keen to return to the part. We had a very memorable Transgender Day of Remembrance and awareness has continued to grow. It is with all our continued hard work and dedication that things can and will change for the better and I for one will do everything to keep positive.