anarchist black cross melbourne autumn bulletin part 3


Gender diverse people and the Prison System part 3 

and yet they will inevitably suffer physical and sexual violence while incarcerated.

Among the many incarcerated are are a significant number of people whose gender does not conform to conventional social stereotypes. People can end up in prison for a wide range of reasons, however in some countries of the world, people whose sexuality and/or gender identity can in itself be a punishable offence. Such people may be placed in solitary confinement for months or years, simply for the ‘crime’ of being themselves. In some of the worst scenarios, forced sterilization and non-consensual sex reassignment surgery is applied to non-conforming prisoners.

The reasons trans and gender non-conforming people can find themselves in prison often relate to their lack of access to basic social resources and their socio-economic marginalization. A paper by the North American activist centre Sylvia Riviera Law Project (SRLP), Its War in Here, reports that:

As a group, transgender and gender non-conforming people are disproportionately poor, homeless, criminalised, and imprisoned. Discrimination against transgender people in housing, employment, healthcare, education, public benefits, and social services is pervasive, pushing transgender people to the margins of the formal economy.’

(SLRP 2007: 11) Many are denied access to transitional medicine (i.e.,medicine relating to gender transition such as hormone treatments). Once inside, they have to go through the humiliating process of de-transitioning against their will in a hostile environment.

It is also common for gender diverse people to be placed in isolation ‘for their own good’. However, a report by Solitary Watch, an activist group dedicated to raising awareness about the abusive nature of solitary confinement, stated that ‘sometimes, the “crime” that lands transwomen in isolation is simply appearing feminine, and therefore more vulnerable to physical or sexual violence in the general prison population’ (Stahl 2014).

Trans men and those whose gender does not conform to conventional binary standards are also victimized in these institutions. The SRLP paper on New York prisons reports that: ‘trans men and gender diverse people, many who identify as butches, studs, and aggressive femmes, receive particularly forceful treatment and neglect by correctional officers.’ The SRLP paper further reports that ‘a person who identifies as an aggressive femme lesbian describes repeated incidents in which male correctional officers harassed transgender and gender non-conforming prisoners, questioning why they “think they’re men”. Also, “Butch and aggressive women get messed with the most. They’re the ones who get written up, harassed. They do this to isolate and quarantine people—it’s all motivated by hate.” (SRLP 2007: 33)

In this country, as is found in prisons worldwide, prisoner segregation is conducted on conventional sex-binary criteria. Because of this criteria, gender diverse people have suffered additional cruel and unnecessary punishment by a system which places them in inappropriate facilities. Australian laws on prisoner placement differ from state to state, but in all cases are only superficially sympathetic to the gender identities of prisoners. Ultimately wardens and prison officials get to decide who gets placed in which prison. For example, trans women who have not had SRS (sex reassignment surgery) are often placed by default in male prisons, frequently with catastrophic consequences.

Information about the lived experience of Australian trans and gender non-conforming prisoners is scarce, however one report by the Australian Institute of Criminology relates anonymously the tragic story of one trans woman in a Brisbane prison:

After an appearance at 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 “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.’ (Blight 2000: 6)

Of particular concern is the fact that in the Northern Territory, indigenous trans women continue to be regularly placed in male prisons, where they are of course subject not only to all kinds of gender based and transphobic violence, but also are subject to further vilification on account of racism by male inmates and prison guards. There are many suffering violence right now on a daily basis and some of those, sadly, will die in prison, if not by assault, then as the result of self-harm.

Also, in our prison state’s offshore prison network, there are those who are being held in Australian run detention centres in countries where gender non-conformity and same sex relations are illegal. These members of our community are surviving in a living hell, and stories of abuse from fellow inmates and guards have begun to trickle through to the outside world. For example, Manus Island Detention Centre in Papua New Guinea is subject to that country’s laws prohibiting homosexuality, and condoms are forbidden inside prisons, increasing the likelihood of STI transmissions.

The paper interviews several gay male asylum seekers who have been assaulted, and reports that ‘People who are lesbian, gay, transgender and intersex (LGBTI), sex workers and HIV/AIDS workers in Papua New Guinea are often vulnerable to stigmatisation, harassment, violence and discrimination, including by service providers and the police. During our visit, Amnesty International was informed of a recent case of an LGBTI sex worker who was gang raped by police’ (Amnesty International 2013: 73).

In December 2015, it was decided that from 2016 onward, the La Trobe Queer department, GSDC and Transgender Circle will hold a regular annual vigil for the Transgender Day of Remembrance. All are welcome to attend these events, and those wanting to attend in 2016 should keep November 20 free in their diaries, and watch the those groups’ web pages for announcements. Those interested in finding more about prison issues generally should tune into Doin’ Time on 3CR community radio, 855AM, every Monday at 4pm.


Australian Bureau of Statistics 2015. Prisoners in Australia Report.

Amnesty International 2015. This is breaking people: human rights violations at Australia’s asylum seeker processing centre on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea. (Sydney: Amnesty International)

Blight, Jake. 2000. Transgender Inmates. (Australian Institute of Criminology: Canberra)

Stahl, Aviva. 2014. The Horrors Endured by Transgender Women in prison.


anarchist black cross Melbourne


write to PO Box 1364 Collingwood


Australia 3066

also listen to 3cr doin time show mondays 4 to 5 pm

855am on line

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