Jade September says she is being harassed by prison officials.
Cape Town - A transgender prisoner, being held at the Helderstroom Maximum Correctional Centre in Caledon, has turned to the Equality Court to compel the departments of Justice and Correctional Services to allow her to dress as a woman, even though she is in a male prison.

Jade September, who was convicted of murder and sentenced to 15 years, submitted in her court papers that her harassment comes from prison officials, who force her to dress and behave like a man.

“The first questions are always, ‘why is she not simply transferred to a women’s prison’, and ‘is it not dangerous for her to look like a woman in a men’s facility’?”

Sanja Bornman of the Lawyers for Human Rights Gender Equality Programme said: “The truth is, because Ms September has never had access to gender affirming health care, she is likely to stand out even more and be at greater risk of victimisation and violence in a prison for woman.”

Lawyers for Human Rights will appear in the Cape High Court, sitting as the Equality Court, later this month and will argue that the prison system has singled her out, harassed and unfairly discriminated against her for expressing her gender identity, contrary to the Promotion of Equality and Unfair Discrimination Act 4 of 2000 (the Act).

Bornman said: “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. Because there are no separate prisons for transgender or gender non-conforming people. In fact, as far as prison laws and policies are concerned, transgender people simply do not exist. This is unacceptable.”

September is seeking relief from the court for the violation of her fundamental constitutional rights to equality and human dignity, including an order that the respondents permit her to express her gender and that she be respected in her gender identity while incarcerated.

The head at the Helderstroom Maximum Correctional Centre, Sivalingum Subramoney, said in responding papers: “I oppose the directions on the basis that the applicant’s transgender expression and differentiation as female in a male correctional centre would create an unimaginary security risk to the applicant.

“Furthermore, although the directions seems innocuous in light of the applicant’s requirements to dress and act as female, the issues must be contextualised within the larger framework that the applicant is serving a prison sentence at Helderstroom Maximum Correctional Centre for males.”

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Cape Argus