File photo: African News Agency (ANA)
File photo: African News Agency (ANA)

'Discriminated' transgender prisoner takes department to court

By ZELDA VENTER Time of article published Oct 31, 2018

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Pretoria - A Transgender prisoner - who described herself as a “woman locked into the body of a man” is so desperately unhappy that prison officials refused her to “act female in a male prison” that she will later in November turn to the Equality Court in the Cape High Court.

Jade September said in court papers that she had been subjected to harassment and unfair discrimination by prison officials, on the basis of her gender identity and expression.

She was forced to give-up wearing a small amount of make-up in jail, to wear her hair long and braided or to wear female underwear and accessories.

September, 36, is incarcerated in the men’s prison, alongside other male inmates. 

But she said this was no problem, as the male prisoner treated her mostly with respect or indifference  Her problem was with the correctional service officials.

“The respondents in the matter, consisting of various prison heads and the Department of Justice and Correctional Services, claim that they force Ms September to conform to a male identity for her own safety. However, they have failed to submit evidence to show that Ms September’s expression of her gender identity, specifically, puts her at any more risk than any other inmate in prison,” Lawyers for Human Rights attorney Sanja Bornman, who is assisting September in her application, said.

Apart from refusing her to wear more feminine attire, they also refused to address her using the female pronoun.

This, September said, constituted unfair discrimination in relation to her expressing her gender identity.

She wants the court to declare that she is allowed to express herself and for the officials to respect this.

September is presently serving a 15-year sentence for murder at the Malmesbury Correctional Centre. She was previously held at the Helderstroom prison in Caledon before she was moved last year.

She stated in an affidavit that she was raised as a boy, but she found it difficult when she looked into a mirror and saw a male looking back at her. 

She made it clear that she was not gay, but transgender.

“Since being incarcerated, I have been actively pursuing medical treatment in order to transition. This is important as I had to  defer my gender expression for so long and for so many reasons.”

The stance of correctional services is that September was sentenced as a man and until the court ordered otherwise, they will treat her as such.

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