A woman’s rights group filed a lawsuit in federal court last week against the California Department of Corrections in response to the state’s transfer of male inmates to women’s prisons. The new transfer policy began earlier this year in response to SB 132, a bill authored by Senator Scott Wiener (D- San Francisco) and signed by Governor Gavin Newsom last year that lets men be housed with women inmates if they self-identify as a woman, nonbinary, or as any other gender variant other than male.
The California Family Council strongly opposed this bill as it made its way through the legislative approval process, and testified against the bill in committee alongside the Women’s Liberation Front (WoLF), the woman’s rights group that filed the lawsuit.
“Everything we warned legislators about SB 132 is coming true,” said Greg Burt, California Family Council’s Director of Capitol Engagement. “Women inmates are being assaulted and sexually harassed. Women inmates are being traumatized over violations of their privacy. Fear and dread now occupy the minds of every California female inmate, because our legislators and governor care more about the desires of trans-identified males than they do the safety of vulnerable women. We fully support WOLF’s lawsuit against the state and we hope the court system rectifies this horrific injustice.”
WoLF is suing on behalf of female inmates Janine Chandler, Krystal Gonzales, Tomiekia Johnson, Nadia Romero, and a non-profit called Woman II Woman led by Amie Ichikawa, a former female inmate who offers services to females once they leave prison. “Since Senator Scott Wiener and Governor Gavin Newsom passed SB 132, ‘The Transgender Respect, Agency and Dignity Act’ we have received hundreds of distressed messages from our sisters inside,” Ichikawa explains in a letter on her website. “They are scared, angry, confused, and in disbelief that legislators completely left them out of a decision that affects their mental health and safety 24 hours a day.”
Ichikawa says that women inmates within the world’s largest women’s prison located in Chowchilla, California, are preparing themselves for a huge influx of men. So far only a dozen men have moved in, but hundreds have requested. According to WoLF, no request has been denied as of yet. These transfers have resulted in intimidation, sexual harassment, physical assaults, and sexual assaults committed by the men against female inmates.
And the requests aren’t limited to men, who claim to be women. Ichikawa writes that “any man who checks the ‘non-binary’ box and can call himself anything he wants. Anyone can gender self ID to get a transfer, and who wouldn’t? What predator wouldn’t take advantage of this opportunity to serve their sentence surrounded by potential new victims who are too scared to stand up for themselves because they’ve been silenced and ignored so much that they think they don’t matter?”
Ichikawa thinks many elected officials and the public just don’t understand what it is like in prison and how SB 132 is causing despair among the female prison population, almost all of whom have a history of sexual, physical, and mental abuse at the hands of men. “There are some very sick people in this world and most of you do not understand just how sick they are. But most incarcerated women understand all too well,” she wrote. “There is a spirit of defeat, fear, and anxiety lingering around the units trying to infect their minds. They’re strong, but each person can only take so much.”
One of those female inmates named in the lawsuit is Tomiekia Johnson, a victim of domestic violence and a former California Highway Patrol Officer, who was housed with a male inmate with a history of violence towards women. “I have emotional distress, panic, and anxiety attacks,” Tomiekia said. “I have never felt like this before even when I was living with my abusive husband.” Watch more of Tomiekia’s story here.
Krystal Gonzalez, another plaintiff says she was sexually assaulted by a transgender man identifying as a woman. When Gonzalez filed a complaint and asked to be housed with female inmates, the suit says, the prison’s written response referred to Gonzalez’s alleged attacker as a “transgender woman with a penis.”
“Krystal does not believe that women have penises,” the lawsuit stated, “and the psychological distress caused by her assault is exacerbated by the prison’s refusal to acknowledge the sex of her perpetrator.”
WoLF is asking the court to issue a permanent injunction against SB 132 and declare the law unconstitutional for violating the following constitutional amendments:
Freedom of speech and the right to petition the government. This law prevents women from describing the men they are housed with using sex-based language; this also interferes with their ability to use the grievance process to describe their experiences and living conditions.
Free exercise of religion. This law prevents religious women whose faith requires sex-separation to freely exercise their religion.
No establishment of a state religion. This law imposes a faith-based belief system founded on the unscientific idea that a person’s sex is subjective, changeable, and/or defined by one’s inner thoughts and feelings, thus establishing a government-sanctioned religious doctrine that is not based in material reality.
Cruel and unusual punishment. This law subjects incarcerated women to known, substantial risks of physical and sexual violence (including consequences such as pregnancy and STIs) and associated psychological distress and terror.
Equal protection under the law.
Based on sex: This law converts women’s correctional facilities to mixed-sex correctional facilities, depriving women – but not men – of a single-sex prison environment. Based on identity: This law treats inmates differently based on identity; it affords special privileges and protections to people who claim a transgender or nonbinary identity, such as the right to choose your bed assignment or cellmate.