August 21, 2014
Actress Laverne Cox is taking action to end the use of solitary confinement. This month, Solitary Watch highlighted the story of Synthia China Blast underscoring the violence, abuse, and sexual assault transgender women face in New York’s prisons. Blast has been held in solitary confinement for over a decade. In a joint letter to the New York State Department of Corrections from the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), Prisoners’ Legal Services of New York, the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, and the Trans Women of Color Collective, the practice of routinely placing transgender people in prolonged solitary confinement often results in irreversible mental and physical harm.
Synthia China Blast, a transgender woman held in solitary confinement in a New York prison for over a decade.
NCTE commends Laverne Cox for putting a spotlight on solitary confinement. As detailed in Orange is the New Black, “protective” solitary confinement doesn’t actually protect anyone. But to end solitary confinement, New Yorkers must take action. That’s why the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, FIERCE, and the Audre Lorde Project have launched a petition demanding an end to so called “protective” solitary confinement in New York.
Sign the petition here.
Placing transgender people—or anyone else—in solitary isn’t protection; it’s torture. By putting pressure on New York prison officials, New Yorkers can make a difference now in the lives of some of our communities’ most vulnerable members.
August 19, 2014
Today, the Department of Labor (DOL) sent guidance to the 200,000 federal contractors saying they may not discriminate against transgender workers. They clarified that that sex discrimination laws extend to individuals discriminated against based on their gender identity or “transgender status” and that this will be in force even before the President’s Executive order adding “gender identity” protections is fully implemented. DOL’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs will oversee compliance with these newest guidelines.
In June, Secretary of Labor Tom Perez announced that DOL is also in the process of updating enforcement protocols and anti-discrimination guidance to protect transgender workers in other areas over which the Department of Labor has jurisdiction.
“Today’s latest victory means that almost every major federal civil rights agency agrees that federal sex discrimination laws protect transgender people in the areas of employment, housing, health care, and education,” said NCTE Executive Director Mara Keisling. “While President Obama’s executive order will take effect once implementing rules are issued in 2015, today’s DOL announcement makes it unmistakable that individuals who are discriminated based on their gender identity in the workplace by a federal contractor can file discrimination complaints immediately with the Department of Labor,” said Keisling.
For information on filing complaints with the Department, please refer to NCTE’s resource “Transgender Federal Workers: Your Workplace Rights.” As always, if you have been discriminated against by any employer, please refer to our “Employment Discrimination and Transgender People” resource.
August 19, 2014
Today, Monica Helms, a transgender activist and Navy veteran, presented the original transgender pride flag created 15 years ago this month to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. The flag will be added to the Museum’s permanent archives along with several other objects that represent cultural milestones in LGBT history. Along with the transgender pride flag, the Smithsonian accepted artifacts from Helms’ military career and Renee Richards’ racquet used to play in the 1963 All-Navy Championship and the 1964 New York State Men’s Championship.
NCTE Executive Director, Mara Keisling, who joined Helms at today’s ceremony, said:
”The cuts of blue, pink, and white fabric that Monica first bound together 15 years ago now form a symbol of the trans community. They have fused forever into a flag that’s been carried into places previously unwelcome to us, charting community and fellowship in the face of violence and mistreatment. Finally today, that same fabric is being recognized as part of the red, white, and blue fabric that make up the richness of America. I’m deeply honored that today, the transgender pride flag—our flag—is being accepted as an American historical treasure that honors transgender people. Today’s ceremony is part of the forward cultural change that says—in the eyes of America—transgender people are here, have been here, and will always be here.”
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August 13, 2014
On Thursday, August 14, 2014, the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) joins thousands across the country to observe the National Moment of Silence in remembrance of victims of police brutality. The event was organized in response to the fatal shooting of an unarmed African American youth, Michael Brown, in Ferguson, MO. Brown is one of several people in two weeks whose death is the apparent result of police brutality.
Transgender people have an enormous stake in ending police brutality. We know that transgender people, and especially transgender women of color, are incredibly vulnerable to police misconduct and brutality. The videotaped brutal beating of Duanna Johnson while in police custody, and the suspicious circumstances surrounding the death of Nizah Morris are only two examples.
The 2011 National Transgender Discrimination Survey found that 38% of Black transgender and gender non-conforming people who had interacted with the police reported harassment with 14% reporting physical assault and 6% reporting sexual assault. Because of these experiences, 51% of Black survey respondents, and 46% of all transgender survey respondents, reported they were uncomfortable seeking police assistance if they needed it.
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August 11, 2014
The New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) runs state correctional facilities across the state of New York—facilities, a Solitary Watch investigation found, where transgender women are regularly placed in solitary confinement and subjected to sexual assault.
Photo: Vicki Watkins
NCTE is one of several organizations that signed a letter today to Anthony Annucci, the Acting Commissioner of DOCCS. The letter, which was also signed by our colleagues at Prisoners’ Legal Services of New York, the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, and the Trans Women of Color Collective, encourages Annucci to take swift action to end the routine practice of isolating incarcerated transgender people.
Transgender women in New York are automatically housed in correctional facilities for men, and the practice of housing them in solitary confinement is often justified with references to the safety of the prisoner. However, as the Solitary Watch report makes clear, these individuals are in fact at greater risk of harm, including sexual violence as well as the added toll of extreme isolation.
Our letter urges DOCCS to take specific actions to protect incarcerated transgender people and ensure compliance with the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), which was passed in 2003. For more information, please read NCTE’s guide to LGBT people and PREA.
August 4, 2014
Today, National Center for Transgender Equality joined nearly 60 local and national LGBT and immigrant’s rights groups in calling for the release of Marichuy Leal Gamino. Marichuy is a transgender woman and survivor of sexual assault in an Arizona for-profit immigration detention facility.
Advocates like NCTE have been in communication with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on this violent incident, and have urged DHS to release Marichuy. As NCTE Director of Policy Harper Jean Tobin notes in the letter to DHS, “Marichuy’s story illustrates why the mass detention of immigrants must end. Thousands of LGBT immigrants like Marichuy are needlessly jailed each year, and hundreds of transgender women are routinely placed in men’s jails despite the obvious danger this creates.”
The National Center for Transgender Equality and our partners will continue to advocate on behalf of Marichuy and will press for policy change as the White House prepares to take executive action to reform U.S. deportation policies.
Learn more about how immigration laws and policies affect transgender people in our report, “Our Moment for Reform
August 4, 2014
On Saturday August 2nd, hundreds of pro-immigrant groups from the around the country descended on the streets of Washington, DC calling for a halt to deportations of undocumented immigrants and for expansion of policies that allow undocumented or mixed status families to remain in the country together. The groups used the phrase “Not 1 More” as their slogan. More than 1,100 immigrants are separated from their families and communities each day through deportations according to the National Immigrant Law Center.
President Obama has the ability through a legal mechanism known as “administrative relief” to allow undocumented immigrants to stay based on certain circumstances. Organizers of the rally called for the Administration to expand its guidelines for administrative relief. The National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) supports expansion of the guidelines and hopes that an immigrant’s gender identity and/or sexual orientation, as well as the likelihood of persecution or violence upon repatriation, is included.
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