Thursday, October 16, 2008

Straight People are the “Most Bullied and Maligned Group” in the US?

Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays (PFOX), a national organization that claims that LGBT people can be “cured,” has recently filed a lawsuit against the Washington, DC Office Of Human Rights (OHR), accusing the agency of failing to protect “ex-gays.” In the suit, PFOX asserts “the ex-gay community is the most bullied and maligned group in America, yet they are not protected by sexual orientation non-discrimination laws.”

Revisiting an old topic we have discussed on our blog before, the District’s Human Rights Act -- arguably one of the strongest human rights ordinances in the country -- protects individuals on the basis of many categories including sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. PFOX is indeed a bit confused here. The intent of the law already protects individuals on the basis of their sexual orientation . . . . be that orientation heterosexual, gay or bisexual.

If PFOX wants to look out for one of the “most bullied and maligned group[s]” in DC it should join the fight against the District’s Department of Corrections, which an oversight organization found to be in violation of the esteemed Human Rights Act. The oversight organization’s findings were sent to Mayor Adrian Fenty urging him to revise the DOC’s “Gender Classification and Housing” policy, which states:

It is a Department of Corrections (DOC) policy to classify and house male and female offenders in separate housing units. DOC shall classify an inmate who has male genitals as male and female genitals as female, regardless of the individual’s gender identification.

This policy is illegal. DC’s Human Rights Act explicitly states that one purposes of the regulations regarding gender identity and expression is “to ensure that transgender people are treated in a manner that is consistent with their identity or expression, rather than according to their presumed or assigned sex or gender (Title 4 DCMR § 808.1).”

So let’s be clear when we talk about “bullied” and “maligned” groups of people. In its current form, DOC’s policy towards transgender inmates places them in the WRONG housing facilities in a manner inconsistent with their self-determined gender identity. This violates the spirit of the Human Rights Act. Every day that passes since DOC approved this policy, is another day that this agency is ILLEGALLY DENYING transgender inmates their basic human rights.

The results of DOC ignoring this law are devastating. Egregious accounts of unembarrassed harassment and violence are overlooked. For example, a grievance report filed with the Office of Human Rights on behalf of a transgender woman who was placed in an all male housing facility stated that this woman was publicly humiliated when she initially stated she was a woman. The report also cites that she was forced to shower with male inmates and was exposed to both verbal harassment and sexual assault during her stay.

Amnesty International cited instances in which police officer’s harassment of LGBT individuals in detention or in holding cells “contributed to an atmosphere conducive to attacks against them.” Transgender people in particular “are at high risk of violence from other prisoners; transgender women in particular may be at heighted risk of torture or ill treatment if they are placed in male jails or holding cells, as such placement may put an individual at risk of physical or sexual assault.”

The literature describing the extent of discrimination transgender people face while incarcerated is tragically dense and incredibly heartbreaking. For PFOX to claim that straight people disguised as “ex-gays” are the most “bullied and maligned group in America” is merely a publicity stunt and frankly just plain insulting. If PFOX is serious about standing up for marginalized groups, we should take some time and encourage them (pfox@pfox.org) to speak out against the DOC’s current practice of denying transgender inmates their basic human rights – a true violation of the DC Human Rights Act!

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