Transgender Inmate fights to be female
Jade September will turn to the Equality Court in the Cape High Court next month.
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 a small amount of make-up in jail, and not allowed to wear her hair long and braided, or wear female underwear and accessories.
September, 36, is incarcerated in the men’s prison alongside other inmates. But she said this was no problem as the male prisoners treated her mostly with respect or indifference.
Her problem was with the Correctional Services officials, especially the head of the prison, who refused to allow her to express her gender.
Apart from refusing her permission 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 fighting her battle with the help of Lawyers for Human Rights lawyer Sanja Bornman.
September is serving a 15-year sentence at the Malmesbury Correctional Centre. She was previously held at the Helderstroom prison in Caledon before being moved last year.
She stated in an affidavit that she was raised as a boy, but 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.”
She landed in jail after she killed a man in a drug-induced rage.
“I remember standing over him with a bloody knife and a bottle of whisky in my hands I never wanted to kill him, I only wanted to rob him.”
In prison she was at first allowed to wear long hair in braids, a bit of make-up the cleaners brought her and women’s underwear.
But the head of the prison’s stance later changed and he said he would not have her looking like a woman because she was a man.
When September told him that she was a woman and nothing could change that, she landed herself a 17-day stint in solitary confinement.
She said that as she was forced to wear male prison garb, a bit of blush, eyeliner and lipstick was the only way in which she could express her femininity.
When she was first moved to Malmesbury, she was allowed to wear women’s accessories and make-up. As there were three gay prisoners, the prison nurse occasionally held “girly parties” with them, where they painted their nails and did their make-up.
But all this came to an abrupt end when the head of the prison said she was no longer allowed to wear make-up and jewellery outside her cell. She was also no longer allowed to be addressed using female pronouns.
Lawyers for Human Rights 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. Bornman explained that September never had an opportunity to change the gender marker in her ID, nor did she have access to gender-affirming healthcare. As a result she was incarcerated as a man.
“This treatment, in more than one prison facility, has traumatised Ms September, and caused considerable damage to her mental health, resulting in a suicide attempt in December, 2017.”
As far as prison laws and policies are concerned, transgender people simply do not exist. “This is unacceptable,” Bornman said.
The stance of Correctional Services is that September was sentenced as a male and, until the court rules otherwise, she will continue to be treated as such.