Friday, 21 November 2008

Those not on the List

Mercedes Allen
One shocking suicide, which occurred around the time of the Transgender Day of Remembrance last year, had one transwoman, who had been regularly and repeatedly raped by the local police and who was required to return to the precinct every week for more, finally doused herself with gasoline on the front step and lit herself on fire (it was this article, and its disappearance shortly after I read it, noted when I returned to try to find her name, that caused me to begin archiving things -- it's not something I take a particular delight in).

New York Law School Professor Arthur S. Leonard
According to Judge Richman’s opinion, Giraldo self-identifies as a "male-to-female transgender person." When she was taken into custody at North Kern State Prison, she was evaluated for placement for the duration of her sentence. She was classified as a Level III inmate with 36 points, which gave her a "primary placement recommendation" to be placed at California Medical Facility or California Men’s Colony, institutions with experience in handling transsexual inmates, where they "are relatively safer... than at other state prisons." Despite this recommendation, she was sent to Folsom and put into general male population.

"Within a week of her assignment to FSP, an inmate employed as a lieutenant’s clerk requested that plaintiff be assigned as his cellmate," wrote Richman," which request was granted. Beginning almost immediately, and lasting through late January, the cellmate ‘sexually harassed, assaulted, raped and threatened’ plaintiff on a daily basis." Then this first cellmate introduced plaintiff to "his friend, another inmate, who in late January requested that plaintiff be transferred to his cell, which request was also granted." Just weeks later, this second inmate "began raping and beating her, again daily." Although Giraldo reported this abuse to prison officials and begged to be transferred to a different cell, her requests were ignored for several weeks.

Finally, after suffering a rape and attack with a box-cutter by her cellmate on March 12, 2006, she was moved to "segregated housing." This was just days after she had told a correctional counselor about the abuse to which she was being subjected, and pleaded to be moved to a different cell, pointing out that her original classification meant she was not supposed to have been assigned to Folsom. The counselor’s reaction was to tell her to be "tough and strong," and the counselor discouraged her from taking any further action, returning her to the cell. Just two days before the final incident, she had also spoken with a medical employee, who noted the conversation in her file but took no steps to report the matter to authorities, because "I don’t want to get him into trouble."

Giraldo was moved to a unit for psychologically troubled inmates, but lived in constant fear that she might be sent back to general population and placed with another abusive cellmate. She was released on parole after filing her lawsuit, shortly before the trial of her claims was to take place.

The state argued that there was no general duty under tort law for prison officials to protect inmates from attacks by other inmates.

Inquiry into a death, Coroner J Abernethy, Wednesday 21 July 1999. Ref: W308 201/99 JI-D1.
December 1997. After an appearance in a Local Court, bail was refused and Ms M. was remanded in custody. Late on 22 December she was transported to a remand and reception centre where that night and into the morning of December 23 she underwent induction assessment. She was identified as transgender by the welfare officer and it was determined she should go into a “protection” wing. Having spent December 24 in court Ms M. spent December 25 and 26 in “strict protection”. During this time she was brutally raped at least twice during daylight hours. The attacks were so vicious that two other prisoners took the unusual step of reporting the incidents and giving sworn evidence. On December 27 Ms M. was found dead in her cell hanging by a shoelace.

This day after the Transgender Day of Remembrance, we should also remember those whose names do not appear on the list - because they suicided, or are still alive in body, even if damaged in mind.

I confess I had to pause for a few seconds at the Canberra ceremony, while reading out the names and ages of those killed. I got to "Lawrence King, California USA, Age 15"... and it was a bit too much.

There is always the mild element of fear in the back of our minds that by clustering together on that day, we present too obvious a target. But it's only a mild fear, and nothing has happened - so far. In any event, I live in a country where beatings may happen, but hate-driven murders are rare, once every few years rather than once every few weeks.

So I count my blessings, and continue on till the next year, hoping that there won't be more on the list than this year. The numbers have increased steadily though recently. With the increased exposure comes increased risk, and we know it. The mass rallies to protest Proposition 8 removing the rights of gays to marry has raised the GLBT profile, and those of us who stick out have been targeted.
Allyson Robinson, an associate director at HRC, said that she doesn't think it's alarmist to use the word "epidemic" for the violence that has been occurring against transgender people.
With 3 (or is it 4?) since the US election, perhaps not.


Bad hair days said...

I think you had the same thought that I head. To give all the ones that died by their own hands in a world that can?t accept us. I didn?t cause in my own struggles with applications for jobs now, and getting some of that pejudice. Isn?t it funny when many women accuse you of not beeing feminine enaugh and often the same woman claim theres no such thing as an inmate gender? I see that all the time when feminists argue.
Its something that might have destroyed a interview today.

Unknown said...

I attended the candlelight vigil here in Seattle, in the cold wind and drizzle, along with, I'd estimate, 50 to 100 other dedicated, caring souls. The reading of the twenty-eight names and brief biographies of the murdered, along with the circumstances of their deaths, punctuated by solemn choruses of "We will remember," moved many of us, myself included, to tears. Each recitation of promise snuffed out by bigoted brutality felt somehow deeply personal, as if these were my friends, my loved ones, we were talking about. I suppose there was a certain amount of identification, a sense of "there but for the grace of a deity I don't even believe in," but it was more than that somehow.

It was my first tentative experience with being politically active for transgender rights out in the "real" world, actually getting off my arse and doing something, however small, without the security blanket of anonymity. I honestly don't know if the sense of purpose and dedication it kindled in me will last beyond the weekend, though I hope it will, but I do know it changed me, how I see myself and my place in the world, in a way merely reading and writing about it and discussing it online never has.

And I know what you mean, Zoe, about Lawrence King. That was a particularly hard one to hear for me as well.

Anonymous said...

Cameron McWilliams, whom Zoe mentioned here back in March, was also not on the list.