Transgender military veteran Jena Faith's abuse in New York jail sparks war of words between feminists and civil rights activists
Jena Faith, a 43-year-old transgender military veteran, experienced first-hand how tough and traumatic it can be for transgenders trying to lead a normal life. She spent a month in Steuben County Jail, New York, last spring while awaiting trial and she would like to forget the experience as a dark chapter of her life.
Jena was initially kept in the women’s division of the jail but was transferred to the men’s facility later. This is where her ordeal started, according to a report in American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) published on September 3.
During her stay in the men’s facility, Jena was reportedly targeted both verbally and physically from male prisoners and guards.
On her first day, Jena was approached by a male inmate who tried to touch her body and blew kisses at her and that left her utterly shocked. The man even told Jena that he was in love with her and wanted to marry her. An afraid Jena tried to seek help from the guards but they just shifted her to another male facility.
Once there, Jena found a new harasser who threatened and abused her even in the presence of the guards. She says they did nothing but warn the man just once. Even the guards called her “mister” and “man” even though she told them that she is a transgender woman.
Denied hormone therapy
Jena was also denied the hormone therapy that doctors prescribed her and she had to undergo physical hardships because of an inappropriate medical regime. The hapless individual eventually found the light at the end of the tunnel when, on August 21, the New York Civil Liberties Union and Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund and law firm BakerHostetler filed a lawsuit eyeing relief for Jena.
It was alleged that Jena was a victim of the violation of several state laws meant to protect the rights, dignity and humanity of transgenders.
Jena is not the only one to be facing such an ordeal in the state of New York. Transgenders are often kept in facilities that are not consistent with their genders even though laws demand that not treating a person at par with his/her gender identity is discriminatory.
The ACLU came up with certain suggestions to improve the state of affairs. It said the State Commission on Correction (SCOC) should adopt some minimum measures to ensure the LGBT people’s safety in facilities and it can do so under the leadership of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. It said this leadership is crucial since a number of facilities are waiting for the state to guide them and would not care much if there is no urgency from the state’s behalf.
The ACLU report even took a dig at Cuomo, saying while he proclaims himself to be a supporter of the LGBT people and even protested when the lawmakers in North Carolina passed legislation disallowing people from accessing facilities that are consistent with their gender identities. But when it comes to the similar problem that the transgenders face in New York state, Cuomo’s administration has chosen to remain mum. The ACLU said they wrote to the SCOC on the same but didn’t get any response.
ACLU faces counter-attack
Meanwhile, the ACLU also faced flak over its take on the Jena affair. In her blog on Butterflies and Wheels, editor Ophelia Benson said the ACLU got the whole thing completely wrong and backward—even the headline.
In her article titled ‘Go ahead, violate the Geneva Convention’, Benson refused to consider Jena a woman and said: “He’s a man who wants to be or identifies as or presents as or thinks of himself as a woman”. Her counterclaim was that things could have been different had Jena been kept with other women in the facility as their safety could have been compromised on that occasion.
The Geneva Convention
Benson then brings into the debate the 1949 Geneva Convention III. She cited Article 25 (fourth paragraph) and Article 29 (second paragraph) of the convention that says if men and women are placed together in any camp, separate accommodations should be provided to the women. It also cited the provisions of the convention (Article 97, fourth paragraph; and Article 108, second paragraph) that women prisoners of war undergoing disciplinary punishment or conviction shall be kept in separate quarters from men and under supervision of women.
Even Article 76 of the fourth paragraph of the Geneva Convention IV says that women accused of an offense shall be put in separate confinements and under the direct supervision of women.