By Stephanie Curry, Esq. Public Policy Manager for Family Policy Alliance®
In 2012, federal prison guidelines required prisons to start considering “gender identity” when placing inmates. This meant a man could be issued women’s clothing, use women’s showers or even be transferred to an all woman’s prison by saying he identified as a woman, without having had a sex change operation. Just as disturbing is that a woman could be transferred to an all men’s prison as well. Once these guidelines were passed and implemented, the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) was the target of multiple lawsuits from women who were threatened and abused as a result of the new policy.
The Women of Fort Worth
One group of prisoners who sued the BOP were female inmates in Fort Worth, Texas. Their lawsuits declared that it was dangerous and degrading for the Bureau of Prisons to allow men (who identified as women) into women’s bathrooms and showers. The behavior of the men caused the women to suffer “disgust, embarrassment, humiliation, stress, degradation, fear and loss of dignity.”
Certainly, prisoners live in a world very different than the one we’re accustomed to. But the Supreme Court has been very clear that prisoners have basic constitutional rights that belong to all citizens and cannot be taken away by the government. For example, prisoners have the right to be free from cruelty, inhumane treatment, and humiliation. This means even inmates retain the right to bodily privacy and dignity.
In a larger sense, the right to bodily privacy means that prisoners cannot be subject to physical humiliations, such as the refusal of clothing or showers. It also means being free from sexual violence and harassment and having the right to use a bathroom with privacy, especially and particularly from the opposite sex. This is not only to protect the prisoner’s safety, but also to protect their dignity.
The good news is the Bureau of Prisons recently updated their policies (in light of the multiple lawsuits and Trump Administration guidance) declaring prisoners’ safety to be paramount above gender identity considerations. Biological sex will once again be the first factor considered when placing prisoners.
But that leads us to our next question:
If bodily privacy is a basic right that belongs to prisoners, why doesn’t it also belong to our students in schools?
Standing for Students
The women of Fort Worth asked themselves that same question when the Obama Administration handed down the “Transgender Mandate,” a policy that would allow men and boys into girls’ bathrooms and locker rooms in public schools. These female inmates were horrified at the government’s willingness to compromise our children’s safety in schools. These women had experienced men in their bathrooms and found it to be a traumatic violation. The women rose up on behalf of students in Texas schools– from their prison cells. They requested to be intervenors in the lawsuit to stop the Obama administration rule from going into effect. (Intervenors are those who are not a party to a lawsuit, but they offer an important perspective on an issue.) They certainly had a unique perspective because they had lived through this policy being implemented and found it to be dangerous, fundamentally unfair, and a deep violation of their privacy and bodily integrity.
A Texas Federal Court did block the school Transgender Mandate. The Trump Administration also issued a memo officially reversing the school Transgender Mandate from Obama’s era. But the damage had already been done.
Schools are still implementing policies that allow men and boys into girls’ bathrooms! Of course, it is absurd to think that prisoners have a more protected right to privacy than our children. Yet, that is what is happening across the country as schools implement “non-discrimination” policies or “transgender rights” policies.
Family Policy Alliance and our allied groups in over 40 states want to partner with you to protect your child’s privacy at school in your state. The government does not and cannot have the power to take away the privacy, safety, or dignity of our children. If you have children in schools, learn your school’s bathroom and privacy policies. If you have questions about the policy or if the policy violates your child’s privacy rights, please reach out to Family Policy Alliance or your state-based ally. Finally, please support candidates in the upcoming election who are willing to protect the privacy and safety of our children in schools!