The Trans Case for Marijuana Decriminalization

March 4, 2014

Today, the District of Columbia City Council will have their second and final vote on the Marijuana Possession Decriminalization Act of 2014. And last week, the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) issued the following letter to City Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, along with all the other city council members, urging them to end mass arrests of DC residents for possession of small amounts of marijuana by voting to support this bill.

The letter states:

“[E]xtremely high rates of incarceration reflect a cycle of societal discrimination and economic marginalization faced by many transgender people, both flowing from and contributing to disproportionate rates of job loss, poverty, and homelessness. Prosecution and a criminal record for mere marijuana possession, with all the collateral consequences it carries, robs many individuals of the opportunity to overcome these social and economic barriers.”

“Though we’re pleased that the proposal is expected to pass the council’s vote today, we’re disappointed that new language in the bill doesn’t adequately address the criminalization of public smoking,” said NCTE Executive Director Mara Keisling. “Other states like Colorado and Washington recognize that tracking people down for public smoking is a misuse of public dollars, and have therefore handled this issue appropriately. The DC City Council today has the opportunity to do the same.”

Read the letter below.

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Panel Releases Recommendations for DC Police on Treatment of LGBT Community

February 28, 2014

A 51-page report released by the Hate Crimes Assessment Task Force (HCATF) issued over two dozen ways the District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) can better respond to bias-related crimes against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities.

Key recommendations in the report stressed the importance of the MPD building trust with transgender people, improving training for MPD officers, identifying leaders within the MPD who can help train officers, and reviewing cold cases of transgender murders. In addition to releasing the report, MPD Chief Cathy Lanier included the steps her office will take to implement the HCATF’s recommendations and notes “no one should fear being the victim of crime because of hatred and bias, whether because of race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or other circumstances. Perhaps more importantly, everyone should feel comfortable working with the police and reporting crime and victimization to us.”

Read the full recommendations and report below along with Chief’s Lanier’s response:​

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Senate Subcommittee Hearing Considers Ending Solitary Confinement

February 25, 2014

An estimated 80,000 people are in solitary confinement in the United States at any given time. Today, the US Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights will hold a hearing on the human rights, fiscal and public safety consequences of solitary confinement. This is a follow-up to a hearing held in 2012, and since that time there have been further actions by state and federal officials to reassess, limit, and in some cases eliminate the use of solitary confinement. The head of the Federal Bureau of Prisons will testify today about his agency’s promise to review the use of solitary confinement in federal prisons. Senators will also hear from the head of Colorado’s prisons, who—charged by that state’s governor with limiting the use of solitary—penned an unsettling New York Times op-ed about spending a day in solitary himself.

Read our testimony here:

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NCTE Celebrates CeCe McDonald’s Early Release

January 13, 2014

FreeCeCeToday, CeCe McDonald, an African American transgender woman serving a 41-month sentence in the self-defense death of her assailant, was released early from St. Cloud Minnesota Correctional Facility. McDonald, a student in Minneapolis, and her friends survived a violent transphobic and racist attack on June 5th, 2011. While the perpetrators initiated the confrontation, CeCe McDonald was the only person to be arrested and charged, and in spite of the fact that her actions were defensive.

National Center for Transgender Equality Executive Director Mara Keisling welcomes CeCe McDonald’s early release, “No transgender person should be punished for surviving a hate crime. NCTE welcomes and celebrates CeCe’s early release from prison. We’re also mindful that CeCe’s release is not freedom; her ability to control her life is now severely limited because a couple of intoxicated strangers believed that CeCe and her friends didn’t belong in the neighborhood. CeCe’s story is a window into understanding how our country treats transgender people of color and young people.

CeCe McDonald’s arrest and imprisonment underscores the need to reform the criminal justice system. Because of a number of contributing factors including police profiling, poverty, and anti-transgender violence, transgender people, and particularly transgender people of color, experience disproportionate rates of imprisonment. According to the 2011 National Transgender Discrimination Survey, 16% of transgender adults have been in a prison or a jail for any reason, compared to only 2.7% of all adults who have been in prison.

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NCTE Applauds Harris County Sheriff Dept’s New LGBT Inmate Policy

November 14, 2013

NCTE applauds the Harris County Sheriff Department for joining other jurisdictions around the country in adopting significant new policies that will help to protect the safety and dignity of LGBT people in custody. Like several other jurisdictions, the Harris County, TX policy incorporates national Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) standards which call for housing transgender inmates based on their gender identity rather than their birth sex or anatomy on a case-by-case basis. This is perhaps the most important step facilities can take to prevent abuse of these inmates, because transgender women housed with men are 13 times more likely to be sexually assaulted.

NCTE Director of Policy Harper Jean Tobin, who worked with partners Lou Weaver and the Harris County Sheriff’s Department on the policy,  told the Associated Press:

“It represents a significant step forward,” said Harper Jean Tobin, director of policy for the Washington-based National Center for Transgender Equality, which worked closely with Garcia’s staff.

The new policy may be notable because it’s occurring in a staunchly red state proud of its conservative values, Tobin said. But she emphasized it’s not about politics.

“This is not a red or blue issue,” Tobin said. “It is an issue of preventing violence, of meeting the state’s legal and moral responsibilities to keep people safe and safeguarding public funds that when sexual abuse happens in prison need to be spent on medical care and mental health care and recovery.”

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Melissa Harris-Perry Show Addresses Trans Prison Issues

August 5, 2013

Laverne Cox MHP

Yesterday, Laverne Cox, a trans actor on the new hit series “Orange is the New Black,” joined a panel on the Melissa Harris-Perry Show to discuss issues faced by transgender people in incarceration. Cox is the first trans actor of color to play a trans character of color.

On “Orange is the New Black,” Cox’s character, Sophia Burset, faces a medical problem all too common among transgender people in prison: losing access to hormones. On the MHP Show, Laverne Cox describes the health consequences of being cut off from this basic medical care.

Despite this struggle in Burset’s story line, she is markedly safer than most transgender women in the U.S. prison and jail system. On the MHP Show segment, Cox points out that transgender women are rarely housed in women’s facilities, or are placed in prolonged solitary confinement. Medical experts agree that solitary confinement contributes to severe physical and mental health problems.

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NCTE Joins LGBT Groups in Banning Police Profiling of LGBTQ People in NYC

July 30, 2013

Today, the National Center for Transgender Equality, along with over a dozen other local and national LGBTQ equality organizations, submitted a letter to the New York City Council urging them to prohibit police profiling based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The statement reads:

From Stonewall to stop and frisk, LGBTQ people – and particularly LGBTQ people of color, LGBTQ youth and transgender and gender nonconforming people – have long been targets of profiling and other forms of discriminatory policing. These consequences have ranges from death to deportation, assault to arrest, homophobic harassment to humiliation.

The New York Times highlighted the significance of this problem when they reported on the experience of Yhatzine Lafontain, a 24-year-old gay man. In March of this year, Lafontain and a friend of his were arrested for being suspected of prostitution because they were dressed in drag.

A Make the Road New York study of a single NYC neighborhood earlier this year found that, of the more than 300 survey respondents, 54% of LGBT respondents experienced some form of police profiling compared to only 28% of straight respondents.

Read the full letter below:

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NCTE Joins Laverne Cox, Dr. Kortney Ziegler to Discuss “Orange is the New Black” on HuffPost Live

July 26, 2013

Today, National Center for Transgender Equality Program Manager Andy Bowen joined actor Laverne Cox on HuffPost Live to talk about the new hit show “Orange is the New Black.” The show features, for the first time, a transgender character played by a transgender actor.

Watch the interview here.

The show centers around Piper Chapman who is incarcerated for a drug offense committed 10 years earlier. The show is novel for a number of reasons, well outlined by the Washington Post, but for those keeping tabs on popular media’s portrayal of transgender women, it is particularly significant.

Few mainstream TV shows or movies have portrayed transgender people at all. And when transgender people are depicted in media, they are often type-casted as powerless victims. Cox’s character, Sophia Burset, instead, is a self-assured and strong character who, as Dr. Ziegler notes, bucks perceptions of transgender women of color.

In addition to touching on other problems in the prison system like sexual assault, solitary confinement and mental health issues, Orange is the New Black highlights injustices facing transgender people. A key part of Sophia’s plot line is when prison authorities take away Sophia’s hormones, an unfortunately common experience for transgender people in incarceration. As found in the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, transgender people in incarceration are often denied routine health care (12%) or hormones (17%). These numbers reflect two sadly common attitudes: 1) hormones aren’t recognized as essential medical care, and 2) people in prison are not valued enough to be provided with proper medical treatment.

Despite the barriers to medical care Sophia faces and the harsh conditions facing all the women of Litchfield Correctional Facility, Sophia is far safer than the vast majority of transgender women in our nation’s prisons and jails, because she is housed with other women. While this is becoming more common, many systems still automatically house trans women in men’s prisons – and then, realizing just how vulnerable to abuse they are there, put them in long-term solitary confinement that amounts to torture. New standards under the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) are meant to end these cruel practices, and NCTE continues to work alongside many other advocates to see that trans people are housed with safety and dignity.

Only released a few weeks ago, the show continues to inspire conversations around race and transgender issues and garner accolades from mainstream viewers. And fortunately, as Orange is the New Black enters its second season, viewers across the country will have the chance to learn more about transgender people through Sophia.