Human rights violations in U.S. jail

April 2, 2009

Antonia LaraThe Olympian (link here) and On Top magazine (link here) both carry the story of Antonia Lara, who has told about the mistreatment of trans women by prison staff at the Twin Falls County Jail in Idaho.

Ms Lara, who was arrested in February for providing false information to police, says she shared a cell with Majid Kolestani, another trans woman, for a week after she was first arrested. Prison officers have for months denied Ms Kolestani hormone treatments, a regimen she’s taken for over five years and refused to provide her a bra. Medical staff at the jail are aware of Ms Kolestani’s needs, Jail Administrator Captain Douglas Hughes said.

Ms Lara and Ms Kolestani were identified as men by their jailers and placed in a cell separate from the general prison population. Ms Lara said jail officials also made disparaging remarks toward her while booking her:

“They were making comments the whole time, bringing people by the window so they could laugh at me like I was some freak show. These people are the people who are supposed to serve and protect.”

Ms Kolestani is charged with the first-degree murder of Ehsan Velayati Kababian, who died from a bullet to the head while in a parked car near the apartment they shared. The police, who found Kolestani in the apartment suffering from a gunshot wound, allege she is the murderer. Ms Lara says that Ms Kolestani is despondent over the loss of Mr Kababian, eats little, prays often, and cries frequently.

Twin Falls County Jail Administrator Capt. Douglas Hughes said the transgender inmates were classified as men when they were taken into custody, and so they were not put in cells with female prisoners. The transgender women were placed in a cell by themselves as a precaution, because in the general jail population “they become preyed on,” Hughes said.

“We treat them as they need to be treated, and we offer them the kind of treatment that is needed by law,” he said.

It strikes me that any law which condones the withholding of medication – hormones, in this case – is not only an unjust law, but also in breach of a fundamental human right.

Defense attorneys unsuccessfully attempted to move Kolestani’s trial to another county due to publicity surrounding the case.

Lara said the county suffers from transgender bias, which would make it difficult for Kolestani to have a fair trial.

“Whether Idaho wants to face it or not, we’re here,” Lara said. “I think gender’s a sensitive issue. When you’re challenging someone’s definition of normal, they get scared, and fear nurtures ignorance.”

Prosecutors and judges have also referred to Ms Kolestani as a man during hearings on the case, whilst public defenders for Kolestani have referred to her as both male and female. This misgendering of trans people by members of the legal profession is commonplace – but that doesn’t make it right.

For all the new administration’s promises to make improvements in the way non- gender conforming people are treated, it seems that the necessary attitudinal change is a long time coming to Idaho.

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(Cross-posted at Questioning Transphobia)

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ETA, 5 May 2009:

ginasf, in the comments on my cross-post at QT (link here) provided this update on the case:

I hope the people in this thread can quiet their bickering for a second to focus back on this case. Nastaran Kolestani, an Iranian transwoman (who refers to herself as a woman with female pronouns) is being pilloried by the conservative local media. The Twin Falls newspaper (and some of the local tv stations) continues to use male pronouns, refer to Ms. Kolestani as a male and refer to her with the name “Majid” which is her male birth name. After I contacted the editor of the paper, James Wright about this, he was highly defensive and published the following editorial:

link here

Unfortunately, the mass media generally seems inclined to misgender trans people as a matter of course and for the flimsiest of reasons – “ to go along with AP style on this would mean ignoring the facts of a murder case in favor of political correctness“???

Just… what???

It’s the classic “Really A Man/Woman” trope (see queenemily’s earlier post at QT (link here) with all it’s hateful bigotry, which unfortunately shows no signs of going away any time soon.

And, as Lisa adds, “political correctness” is so rhetorically empty

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