It was announced today that transgender inmates in Federal prisons will be housed according to their gender identity and will be addressed using the correct pronouns (among other rights).
This is a “win” for gender identity and expression and human rights – but what about for Trans and non-binary inmates? There is the potential for greater harm without the right training and support.
As pointed out by Helen Kennedy of Egale Canada Human Rights Trus in the Toronto Star article, LGBTQ inclusion does not happen simply because of a policy change. Knowledge, awareness and understanding are key components of creating safer spaces for LGBTQ individuals. So is accountability for putting that knowledge, awareness and understanding into action. This means correctional staff that understand what it means to be Trans or non-binary, understand that these identities are now prohibited grounds for discrimination according to the Canadian Charter, and recognize what their responsibilities are to uphold these rights, as part of their job.
Trans and genderqueer or non-binary individuals – because they are often easier to identify – are often in greater need of safe spaces than other LGBTQ community members. Some people – like Jeremy Dias (Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity), cited in the same article – will advocate for separate facilities for Trans and non-binary individuals. It’s a point that bears considering – with caution.
It may well be that while we are on the road to inclusion, the safety of Trans and non-binary individuals would be most guaranteed in separate facilities. But separation/segregation cannot be used as a way to absolve people from their participation in the creation of any kind of inclusive spaces – in this case LGBTQ inclusive spaces. And as federal employees, under the Charter, we have the right to expect that participation will be guaranteed, that there will be appropriate training to ensure this, and that there will be consequences if they are not on board. So let’s see…
But in the meantime, what of the safety of inmates being transferred under this new policy? Is safety guaranteed, along with their rights? Is this a win for them? We often rush headlong into inclusion. Because it’s the right thing to do. But without having created the foundation of awareness, belonging and community that is so crucial to success. (You can read more about the ABCs in my paper: The Future of Inclusion. Email me at email@example.com if you would like a copy.)
Let’s take a moment to celebrate this new development in our support for human rights – but let’s not forget to ask for accountability so that the inmates that are afforded these new rights are safe.