Prizm News / May 29, 2018 / By D’Anne Witkowski


Oh God, what did Trump do this time? Try his administration’s dangerous assault on transgender prisoners.


Commentary by D’Anne Witkowski


Being in prison sucks. Granted, I have never been in prison, but one doesn’t actually have to spend time behind bars to know it’s awful. I’ve been conditioned my entire life to recognize that prison is not somewhere I ever want to go. And so it’s a pretty good motivator to be a law-abiding citizen (recognizing, of course, that being a cisgender white woman gives me plenty of unearned and unfair advantage).

There is, unfortunately, a perception in America that prison should be horrific. The more horrible the better. We have a very punitive prison justice system. The goal of putting people in prison is to punish them, not rehabilitate them. We want people who break the law to suffer (unless those people are white and have lots of money. Those people apparently get to be president).

And boy do we love to lock people up. The United States has the largest prison population in the world. I’m not talking per capita, I mean total. We’re #1. We also love to try children as adults and put them in adult prisons. Which is sick.

But for those of us not in prison, it’s really easy to say something like, “If you can’t do the time don’t do the crime” and “It’s prison, it’s not supposed to be a resort.”

It’s easy to forget that the people in prison are, well, people. They are human beings.

So you can imagine that it’s especially hard for trans men and women to be in prison. Because even trans folks who are NOT in prison have to constantly defend their very humanity against constant assault.

The Trump administration has been a disaster for transgender people. For such an already marginalized and relatively small group, they’ve sure been singled out for harm by this administration.

All of the gains made for trans rights under President Obama are being rolled back for no other reason than that the Trump administration doesn’t like trans people and they don’t like black people and they’ll be damned if they let a black guy tell them how they should treat trans folks. And so we’ve seen direct attacks on transgender service members and transgender students from Trump and company. And now it’s prisoners.

Unlike service members and students, prisoners don’t have the advantage of being part of a group that many people like or even admire. They have few advocates in actual power. Transgender prisoners are the most marginalized of the already marginalized.

Which is probably why the Trump administration decided to undo rules put in place during the Obama presidency that allowed trans prisoners to be housed in facilities that aligned with their gender identity. In other words, if you are a transgender woman, you shouldn’t be thrown into a men’s prison. For obvious reasons. But in case those reasons aren’t obvious, the intention behind the rules was to protect trans prisoners from sexual and physical assault.

The change was prompted by a lawsuit brought by four evangelical Christian prisoners in Texas. These women argued that being housed with “men” (as they refuse to acknowledge or accept trans identity) put them at risk and made them feel “icky” (that’s a legal term, obviously). And Trump and his ilk were more than happy to throw trans inmates to the wolves.

This has, not surprisingly, drawn criticism from the LGBTQ community.

“Once again, the Trump administration is turning its back on those most vulnerable,” Lambda Legal’s Richard Saenz said in a statement. “There is no justification for this policy shift; it is a deliberate recipe for violence against transgender people based in inexcusable prejudice.”

While I agree with Saenz, I don’t really think its accurate to say that the administration is “turning their backs” on transgender people. After all, in order to turn away from someone you have to acknowledge they exist in the first place.

Instead, Trump and his minions want to erase them entirely. As for “deliberate recipe for violence,” that’s exactly what this is. Remember, if prison is supposed to be hell for cisgender folks, it follows this sick line of reasoning that it should be especially hellacious for trans people the system barely sees as human.

Also, “Based in Inexcusable Prejudice” would make a great title for a book about the Trump presidency.

D’Anne Witkowski is a poet, writer and comedian living in Michigan with her wife and son. She has been writing about LGBT politics for over a decade. Follow her on Twitter @MamaDWitkowski.