Supporters of Jade September picket outside the Cape Town High Court. Picture: Zodidi Dano/Cape Argus
Cape Town - The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender-plus (LGBTQIA+) community has rallied its support behind transgender prisoner Jade September, who is taking on the Correctional Services Department and prison heads after being denied the right to express her gender identity as a female in a male prison.

September, approached the Western Cape High Court, challenging authorities and accusing prison heads of discriminating against her by not allowing her to wear her hair long.

September is serving 15 years for killing her client back in May 2013.

Prior to the proceedings taking place, members of the Sistaaz’Hood group of transgender sex workers stood at the steps of the high court with posters and placards calling for equality.

Others went as far as writing “justice for Jade” on their posters. The group wore purple T-shirts.

One of the members, Goolam Petersen, said: “Most of us know Jade and are here to support her in getting her dignity back. Once you strike Jade, you strike every trans in South Africa because trans exists, but some people are too blind to see.

“The law that needs to protect us is the biggest criminal because there is no way for us to survive, such as having our IDs changed, health care services and social service departments all take our right away, it's like there is no place for us in this country.”

Petersen said this court case was just one of the ways to get recognition.

“Jade is our voice now. We don't expect much. All we want is for transgender women to be seen for who we are, be accepted and for our dignities to be upheld. Let us be treated equally in every sector of government. We don't ask for special treatment just give us equal rights.”

Jade September

Sistaaz’ Hood co-ordinator Leigh Davids said: “Jade is a woman in a men's prison but would not be safe in a women's prison. She is a transgender woman caught in a system which does not afford her a chance to fulfil her role in the justice system.

“Most of us have been imprisoned and understand full well the complexity of our position in the prison system.”

While incarcerated at the Helderstroom Maximum Correctional Centre in Caledon, September said she had been subjected to verbal abuse and harassment from prison officials, and at one stage placed in segregated confinement for 17 days. This was after she defied officials and expressed her gender. Her personal items were confiscated and she was forced to cut off her braided hair.

The court heard that last December, following a confrontation with one of the prison heads, September attempted suicide. The matter continues today.

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Cape Argus