The Trump administration has unleashed its newest assault on the already precarious rights of transgender and gender-nonconforming people in the US. On May 11, the Bureau of Prisons announced it would “use biological sex” to assign prisoner housing to inmates and that an inmate’s gender identity would only be considered “in rare cases.” The bureau directive shockingly justifies this move by claiming that housing inmates based on gender identity “creates a situation that incessantly violates the privacy of female inmates; endangers the physical and mental health of the female Plaintiffs and others, including prison staff; [and] increases the potential for rape.”
What increases the dangers to prisoners’ mental and physical health is exactly what the Trump administration is aiming to do: ignoring gender identity and housing trans women with cis men. As Liberation News reported, “Transgender women in male prisons are 13 times more likely than the general prison population to be sexually assaulted. Close to two-thirds of trans prisoners report sexual assault. Many assaults are not reported, partly because the perpetrators are often prison guards, wardens and staff.”
This is the last key Obama-era protection extended to trans people to be discarded as part of the far-right Trump agenda, having already removed Title IX and Title VII protections from the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and re-instituted a ban on trans people serving in the military. Trump’s Education and Justice Departments have also stepped back from defending trans people’s right to equal use of public facilities like bathrooms, announcing in February that it would cease investigating civil rights complaints by trans students altogether.
However, in other parts of the world the struggle for equality and liberation for trans people is moving forward. Trans and third gender rights in Pakistan have surged forward under the leadership and hard work of transgender and khawaja sira advocacy groups and left-wing parties, passing the monumental Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill 2018 last week. The remarkable bill shows what kind of civil rights protections are achievable through struggle.
Pakistan’s new law provides for many of the rights being gutted by the Trump administration, such as separate detainment rooms in jails for trans prisoners. It also prohibits the harassment of trans people at home and in public and explicitly protects trans people from discrimination by educational institutions, employers, health and trade services, as well as on public transportation and in buying, selling or renting property, among numerous other protections. These are not “you-too” tack-ons to previous laws that can be interpreted and re-interpreted as including or not including trans people at the drop of a hat, but real, affirmative steps toward guaranteeing equal civil rights for an oppressed community.
The intensely reactionary Trump administration’s attacks on LGBTQ people and others will only continue to worsen if we don’t fight back. Pakistan’s brilliant new law shows that a united struggle can lead to success, even against a right-wing and hostile government.