National News

Federal Prisons Roll Back Rules Protecting Transgender People

Posted May 11, 2018 10:47 p.m. EDT

WASHINGTON — Justice Department divisions are seeking to roll back policies that offer protections for gay and transgender people, amid a broader push by the Trump administration to reverse such rules.

The Bureau of Prisons will now use an inmate’s biological sex to initially determine where that person will be housed and which bathroom the person will use, according to a policy change to the bureau’s Transgender Offender Manual released Friday.

The revised manual says assigning an inmate to a prison facility based on the person’s identified gender is appropriate “only in rare cases.”

The move comes after several women at a prison in Texas filed a federal lawsuit, saying that sharing quarters with transgender women had endangered them. The Justice Department said over the summer that it would evaluate the case, as well as the bureau’s policies. The change was first reported by BuzzFeed.

The statistics arm of the Justice Department, for its part, has proposed that it no longer collect information about sexual orientation and gender identity from teenagers who take part in the National Crime Victimization Survey, which seeks to determine the frequency, characteristics and consequences of crimes.

Critics say the changes reflect a larger effort to reduce rights for gay, lesbian and transgender citizens, including in the military and in public schools.

“This administration seems to be using every opportunity to roll back progress for LGBTQ and transgender people, even against the grain of where the American public is, and is headed, on these issues,” said Vanita Gupta, chief executive of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division under President Barack Obama.

The Bureau of Prisons emphasized that the revision to its manual addressed safety concerns.

It balanced the “safety needs of transgender inmates as well as other inmates, including those with histories of trauma and privacy concerns, on a case-by-case basis,” Nancy Ayers, a spokeswoman for the bureau, said in a statement.

Regarding the proposed change to the victim survey, a Justice Department spokesman declined to comment. However, a number of Democratic lawmakers said that no longer gathering that information would erase gay, lesbian and transgender Americans from federal statistics.

“We are deeply concerned that the proposed elimination of important data collection about the victimization of LGBT teens is being driven by motives that are not based on any legitimate rationale,” 55 congressional Democrats said in a letter Friday to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., one of the signatories, said that information was “of great interest to policymakers and the public.”

“Federal studies have shown that young LGBT individuals face higher rates of criminal victimization than their straight, heterosexual peers, including higher rates of being bullied, physically attacked and threatened with weapons in schools,” Nadler said in a statement.

The moves at the Justice Department follow the new limits on transgender troops in the military, announced in March, that disqualify transgender people from serving, though exceptions can be made.

It also allows transgender troops currently in the military to remain in the ranks, but the Pentagon could force them to serve according to their gender at birth.

The policy adopted recommendations from Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and came after court rulings delayed an earlier ban on transgender troops.

Mattis said at the time that the new policies would help the Defense Department “ensure the survival and success of our service members around the world.”

Civil rights advocates said then that there was no evidence to support a policy that barred mentally and medically fit citizens who wished to fight for their country.

Last year, the Education Department reversed its position on bathroom access for transgender students.

“This administration has been marked by rollbacks on civil rights progress and a willingness to exhibit an anti-LGBTQ agenda over and over again,” Gupta said.