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Transgender prisoner takes South African government to court

Transgender prisoner takes South African government to court

Cape High Court (Photo: Wikipedia)

Jade September, a transgender woman who is currently in prison, is being forced to serve her 15-year sentence in a male correctional facility in South Africa.

Prison officers have refused to let her express her gender. They have subjected her to verbal abuse and harassment, she claims.

The abuse was so bad that September tried to take her own life in December last year.

September, therefore, will take South Africa’s Minister of Justice to the Cape High Court, sitting as an Equality Court, on Monday (26 November).

With the help of Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR), she will argue her treatment contravenes the Promotion of Equality and Unfair Discrimination Act 4 of 2000.

Like many trans South Africans, September has been unable to change her gender marker on official documents or access gender-affirming surgery.

She is serving her sentence at Helderstroom Maximum Correctional Centre in Caledon, Theewaterskloof.

Authorities deny September was subjected to harassment or discrimination, according to local media.

They claim as her ID document identifies her as male, she was convicted and sentenced as male, and should present as male, according to GroundUp.

Authorities say she cannot present as female until she undergoes gender-affirming surgery, GroundUp reports.

‘Deprived of my identity’

September’s personal items have been arbitrarily confiscated. What’s more, she was forced to cut off her braided hair, according to a LHR press release.

The treatment ’caused me to feel extremely demeaned and deprived of my identity’ September said in papers submitted to court, according to LHR.

Sanja Bornman of the LHR Gender Equality Programme said September may also be at risk of victimization in a woman’s prison.

‘It is the duty of state to accommodate her where she currently is, in accordance with the principle of substantive equality – that is, equality in outcomes’ Bornman said.

‘It is also time for the state to realise that none of its systems and services may exclude or discriminate against transgender and gender non-conforming people any longer’.

South Africa has legislation to protect LGBTI discrimination. But trans people continue to feel marginalized.

In 2010, Christene Ehlers won a landmark anti-discrimination case. She claims she was fired for being trans.