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Judge tosses challenge to SF jail trans policy

by Alex Madison

A cell at the San Francisco Jail. Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland
A cell at the San Francisco Jail. Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland  

A challenge to the San Francisco Sheriff's Department's Transgender, Gender Variant and Nonbinary policy and procedures was shot down Friday (April 20) by a San Francisco Superior Court Judge. Protections for transgender inmates will continue under the first-of-its-kind policy addressing the needs of transgender and gender-variant prisoners.

The policy was challenged by the San Francisco Deputy Sheriffs' Association, which has long been critical of it.

Sheriff Vicki Hennessy, who has led efforts on this policy, said in a news release, "Our TGN policy is about respecting TGN individuals, making them feel safe and facilitating their participation in county jail rehabilitation programs."

The policy, which went into effect in February, allows transgender people to declare their preferred name and gender identity at intake and be able to choose the gender of the deputy who will strip search them. The policy also includes housing assignments and gender awareness training for sheriff's deputies and the department's civilian employees.

In its challenge, the deputy sheriffs' association claimed that the policy violated the privacy of transgender deputies. If a transgender inmate were to specify their preference of gender for the deputy who was to search them, the challenge claimed the policy would force a transgender deputy to reveal their gender assigned at birth.

The judge rejected this argument, however, stating the, "undisputed evidence showed that deputies are not required to disclose anything ... they are assigned to conduct searches by how they identify and present themselves at work, which is the same way the former search policy worked."

In a news release, Hennessey said to the challenge outcome, "This reduces the chances that TGN individuals won't reoffend and that's an outcome we want for all individuals in our custody."

In a news release, the sheriff's department said it worked on the policy and procedures with the deputy sheriff's association along with San Francisco Sheriff's Managers and Supervisors Association, former San Francisco Human Rights Commission Executive Director Theresa Sparks, trans retired San Francisco Police Department Lieutenant Stephan Thorne, and the Transgender Law Center, among others.

The transgender policies and procedures were first announced last year although reforms for housing transgender inmates have been underway in San Francisco jails since 2015.

The ruling comes on the heels of gay state Senator Scott Wiener's Senate Bill 990, introduced in March, which requires correctional facilities to allow people in custody to register their preferred gender identity and first name, and also that facility staff address people by these expressed preferences.

It also includes a transgender person's right to receive equal access to programming and work opportunities despite being in solitary confinement, as where many transgender people are housed due to their own safety.

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