by Ray Jackson
Belinda (not her real name) was arrested for drug possession and after a quick appearance before a magistrate was sent to the Metropolitan Reception and Remand Centre (MRRC) at Silverwater. The MRRC is the new 900 bed gaol opened about a year ago with much fanfare that this was to be a ‘user-friendly gaol, a safe gaol, a gaol that would greatly reduce, if not eliminate, deaths in custody.
Belinda was a recognized transgender who presented as a female, although born a male. She had progressed through the transition to the point of having all the physical appearances of a woman but was still at the pre-op stage, i.e. the final change of genitalia had not yet been made.
Instead of placing Belinda in a female prison - her designated sex - she was placed in a male prison. Because of her recognized need for protection she was placed in the strict protection pod at the MRRC, to join two other transgender inmates and sixty odd male inmates. These strict protection inmates included paedophiles, vicious rapists and other inmates in need of strict protection.
The NSW Department of Corrective Services was in the process during this time (late last year) of reviewing their Transgender Policy but because such a review was in process Belinda was treated and recognized, because of her birth sex, as a male prisoner, breasts and all!! The only official acceptance of her position was that she was to be placed in a single cell - if this was her request. She did.
Regardless of this wink-and-a-nod to duty of care towards transgender inmates, within three days Belinda had been allegedly raped twice (orally and anally) and hung herself on 27 December last year.
Belinda’s situation is not unique as transgender inmates suffer brutally at the hands of other inmates, custodial officers and staff. They are normally referred to as ‘things’ or ‘it’ and few have any understanding of their real needs. The alleged rape of Belinda occurred during daylight hours when the pod (part of the prison which houses inmates) is fully staffed and inmates are all over the pod exercising or involved in activities.
There are two witnesses to the rapes and statements have been made to the authorities investigating the suicide. This is normally not done. Especially where the transgender inmates are concerned.
Discussions with other transgender inmates, along with meetings with the Gender Centre in Sydney opened up a world of absolute debasement and discrimination levelled at transgenders, whether incarcerated or not. Homophobia is bad enough but the treatment meted out to transgenders is total. Very few so called ‘normal people’ (should such exist) are comfortable in accepting transgenders as individuals who have suffered a genetic error - a female psyche in a male body or a male psyche in a female body.
The System - whether capitalist or not - discriminates every day in every way against transgenders. In employment, medically, socially, in every way possible they are discriminated against. Especially by the police, the courts and our gaol system.
They are put through every psychiatric and medical hoop merely because they need to change their birth sex to their preferred sex. Transgenders have the same human rights to a full and satisfying life as does every other person on this planet.
There is, at least, discussion between the Department of Corrective Services, Gender Centre, Anti Discrimination Board and even to the Indigenous Social Justice Association, among others on obtaining human rights for transgender inmates, of whatever stage of transition. The new Transgender Policy has now been agreed to (with some reservations from some quarters) and is far in advance of the previous gaol policy.
Discussion are now being held with the gaol officers union - the Prisons Officers Vocational Branch of the Public Service Association as to the implementation of the Policy into the NSW gaols. Custodial officers are known as a very conservative group and generally believe that gaols are becoming too soft thus allowing the inmates to have too much freedom and too many rights.
The new Policy (still labelled DRAFT) sets out that self identification as a member of the opposite sex is the only criterion for identification as a transgender. Such identification covers police stations/lock-ups, courts/court cells and all NSW gaols. Persons received into the custody of the Department of Corrective Services who self-identify as a transgender have the right to be housed in a goal appropriate to their gender of identification, subject to certain provisions being met of course.
Firstly all transgender inmates - at whatever stage of transition - will be received into the Metropolitan Reception and Remand Centre (MRRC) for full induction screening. As was Belinda. Secondly Case Management will then decide where the inmate is to go. Case Management is managed by custodial staff. The Department has many good and enlightened Policies. Their implementation is something else.
In Transgender Warriors by Leslie Feinberg, there is a list of demands sought by transgenders on an international basis, called the International Bill of Gender Rights which was adopted on 17 June 1995. I strongly recommend the book to all who are interested in transgender issues.
Some of the demands are; the right to competent medical and professional care; the right of freedom from psychiatric diagnosis or treatment; the right to form committed, loving relationships and enter into marital contracts; the right to conceive, bear or adopt children, to nurture and have custody of children and to exercise parental capacity.
The first two, I believe, do not exist in any custodial situation in Australia. Access for the demands above within the wider community is difficult to non-existent due mainly to pressure from the Christo-fascists both within and without governments to do nothing except to harass transgenders, homosexuals, indeed any group that does not ‘fit’ their Christo-capitalist mould of ‘family’ and ‘normalcy’.
Australia is currently lurching to the Right - led by a psycho-economic rationalist Howard, along with his Hanson alter ego, both spewing their own/same psychobabble - a psychobabble of exclusion for minority groups, whether racial, sexual, social or just ‘different’.
Feinberg gives us the solution in reminding us that;
“It’s not your lipstick that’s oppressing me, or your tie, or whether you change your sex, or how you express yourself. An economic system oppresses us in this society and keeps us fighting each other, instead of looking at the real source of this subjugation”
“We can never throw enough people overboard to win approval from our enemies. Should we try to argue that we’re as ‘normal’ as those who organize against our civil (and human my words) rights”.
The final word, or words, on the why, where and how of what is needed I leave to Frederick Douglas, a former Afro-American slave -
“If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favour freedom and yet deprecate agitation…. want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters …. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did, and it never will!
Belinda, we will continue to demand on your behalf.
PO Box K555
Don Clark 02 96981985