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Justice Department rolls back transgender prison protections

By Sommer Brokaw
Justice Department rolls back transgender prison protections
Federal prison officials will now assign inmates solely based on gender identity "in rare cases." Photo by f11photo/Shutterstock.

May 12 (UPI) -- The U.S. Justice Department has rolled back Obama-era prison rules to protect transgender inmates.

Biological sex, not gender identity, will be the primary basis for prison placement under the policy change to the Federal Bureau of Prisons' Transgender Offender Manual released Friday. Officials will assign inmates based on gender identity alone only "in rare cases."

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The changes strike through a guideline under former President Barack Obama allowing the Transgender Executive Council, consisting of federal staffers, to recommend transgender inmates use prison cells matching their gender identity when appropriate. The Obama-era rules came in light of a National Center for Transgender Equality report that respecting gender identity and expression was an important policy to protect the transgender population from abuse and assault.

The rollback comes on the heels of four evangelical Christian women in Texas filing suit in U.S. District Court to challenge the Obama-era rules, BuzzFeed News first reported. The women said living alongside transgender women put them in danger.

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"The manual now addresses and articulates the balance of safety needs of transgender inmates as well as other inmates, including those with histories of trauma, privacy concerns, etc., on a case-by-case basis," Nancy Ayers, a spokesperson for the Bureau of Prisons, told BuzzFeed News.

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From February 2011 to May 2012, more than one in three transgender inmates at federal and state prisons said they were sexually victimized over the previous 12 months, a Bureau of Justice Statistics report showed. Among the general prison population, that rate was about one in 25 inmates.

"This administration seems to be using every opportunity to roll back progress for L.G.B.T.Q. and transgender people, even against the grain of where the American public is, and is headed, on these issues," Vanita Gupta, the chief executive of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and the head of the Justice Department's civil rights division under Obama, told the New York Times.

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