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Why has the trans woman Tara Hudson been sent to an all-male prison?

Tara Hudson must now endure cruelty because the authorities following the rulebook only read half of it. For trans people, that is the reality of justice in Britain today.

It was Monday that the case of Tara Hudson, a trans woman sent by Bath Magistrates to a men’s prison to serve out a 12-week term for assault, first streaked across my Twitter feed. Within two days a petition, now tracking 50,000 signatures, had begun, alongside a hashtag campaign of support: #ISeeTara.

The issue is also being raised with the Ministry of Justice by Hudson’s local MP, Ben Howlett, and Lib Dem leader Tim Farron. A letter-writing campaign has begun: demos outside the prison and outside the MoJ are being planned.

How did we get here? At the individual level, the issue is either the failure of Hudson to change the gender recorded on her passport or, acccording to the MoJ, the fact that she does not have a gender recognition certificate (GRC), which is awarded by a panel once a person has lived in their new gender for two years. The MoJ have not said this in so many words: it’s just that every time they are asked why she has been sent to a men’s prison, they respond by talking about “legal gender” and GRCs.

Why Hudson would not have a GRC is unclear: we do not know precisely what surgeries she has had, nor why she has not got a GRC. I don’t have one. I will not, because I absolutely refuse the right of the state to demand money from me for the simple purpose of acknowledging who I am. In that sense, the GRC is NOT like a passport or driving license. Because it says that my gender is dependent on the ratiocination of some state apparatchik, who obviously knows who I am better than I do.

A growing number of trans men and women agree with me, objecting to this imposition for a variety of reasons. It’s a gender tax. State intrusion. The fact that flawed equal marriage legislation effectively creates a “spousal veto” over obtaining a GRC (because your spouse’s agreement is needed to convert a heterosexual marriage to a same-sex marriage, or vice versa). One trans woman I know simply will not obtain a GRC until this veto is removed. Her spouse doesn’t object. She does. In principle.

Many in the trans community worry that the decision is punitive on the part of the Ministry of Justice – an implicit rebuke to trans people, who questioned the legitimacy of the gender recognition system in a petition this summer. (The Ministry of Justice dismissed the petition curtly earlier this year, but the issue is likely to come up again as the women and equalities select committee investigates transgender issues.)

The situation is troubling enough for us binaries (those of us who consider ourselves to have a gender); the Gender Recognition Act, passed in 2004, offers nothing at all to the fast-growing numbers of non-binary trans people. They have to pick a box.

 Even if we accept that the situation over GRCs is under review, the most troubling aspect of Tara Hudson’s case is that the MoJ are apparently ignoring their own guidelines, published in 2011. 

These rule that someone with a GRC should go to the prison appropriate to their new gender. But the guidelines go on: where there is no GRC, there are many factors to take into account. Identity. Steps taken. Risk to the prisoner. To other prisoners. All of which are meant to be addressed before the guilty party arrives at prison.

And on what is known so far, Tara Hudson ticks each and every one of these boxes. Hormones. Treatment. Some surgery. At serious risk in a male prison. Combined, these factors make the decision to incarcerate her in an all-male prison questionable.

In the general prison population she is at immediate risk of assault, of rape. Which, of course, is why she almost certainly won’t be placed in the general population: will be consigned to a euphemistically named – and expensive segregation regime.  Otherwise known as “solitary confinement”. Otherwise, “cruel and unusual” punishment that in many peoples’ books amounts to a form of torture.

The mere fact of being deemed a man, after an entire adult life spent as a woman is serious knockback to Hudson’s psychological health, too. Behind the story there are hints already of depression: what price Tara’s state of mind after three nights in all-male Horfield?

That is why this case has provoked so much rage. Tara Hudson must now endure cruelty because those who sat in judgment of her deemed they had no alternative but to follow the rulebook. Except they didn’t: they only read half of it.

For trans people, that is the reality of justice in Britain today.

Jane Fae is a feminist writer. She tweets as @JaneFae.

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"We repealed, then forgot": the long shadow of Section 28 homophobia

Why are deeply conservative views about the "promotion" of homosexuality still being reiterated to Scottish school pupils? 

Grim stories of LGBTI children being bullied in school are all too common. But one which emerged over the weekend garnered particular attention - because of the echoes of the infamous Section 28, nearly two decades after it was scrapped.

A 16-year-old pupil of a West Lothian school, who does not wish to be named, told Pink News that staff asked him to remove his small rainbow pride badge because, though they had "no problem" with his sexuality, it was not appropriate to "promote it" in school. It's a blast from the past - the rules against "promoting" homosexuality were repealed in 2000 in Scotland, but the long legacy of Section 28 seems hard to shake off. 

The local authority responsible said in a statement that non-school related badges are not permitted on uniforms, and says it is "committed to equal rights for LGBT people". 

The small badge depicted a rainbow-striped heart, which the pupil said he had brought back from the Edinburgh Pride march the previous weekend. He reportedly "no longer feels comfortable going to school", and said homophobia from staff members felt "much more scar[y] than when I encountered the same from other pupils". 

At a time when four Scottish party leaders are gay, and the new Westminster parliament included a record number of LGBTQ MPs, the political world is making progress in promoting equality. But education, it seems, has not kept up. According to research from LGBT rights campaigners Stonewall, 40 per cent of LGBT pupils across the UK reported being taught nothing about LGBT issues at school. Among trans students, 44 per cent said school staff didn’t know what "trans" even means.

The need for teacher training and curriculum reform is at the top of campaigners' agendas. "We're disappointed but not surprised by this example," says Jordan Daly, the co-founder of Time for Inclusive Education [TIE]. His grassroots campaign focuses on making politicians and wider society aware of the reality LGBTI school students in Scotland face. "We're in schools on a monthly basis, so we know this is by no means an isolated incident." 

Studies have repeatedly shown a startling level of self-harm and mental illness reported by LGBTI school students. Trans students are particularly at risk. In 2015, Daly and colleagues began a tour of schools. Shocking stories included one in which a teacher singled out a trans pupils for ridicule in front of the class. More commonly, though, staff told them the same story: we just don't know what we're allowed to say about gay relationships. 

This is the point, according to Daly - retraining, or rather the lack of it. For some of those teachers trained during the 1980s and 1990s, when Section 28 prevented local authorities from "promoting homosexuality", confusion still reigns about what they can and cannot teach - or even mention in front of their pupils. 

The infamous clause was specific in its homophobia: the "acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship" could not be mentioned in schools. But it's been 17 years since the clause was repealed in Scotland - indeed, it was one of the very first acts of the new Scottish Parliament (the rest of the UK followed suit three years later). Why are we still hearing this archaic language? 

"We repealed, we clapped and cheered, and then we just forgot," Daly says. After the bitter campaign in Scotland, in which an alliance of churches led by millionaire businessman Brian Souter poured money into "Keeping the Clause", the government was pleased with its victory, which seemed to establish Holyrood as a progressive political space early on in the life of the parliament. But without updating the curriculum or retraining teaching staff, Daly argues, it left a "massive vacuum" of uncertainty. 

The Stonewall research suggests a similar confusion is likely across the UK. Daly doesn't believe the situation in Scotland is notably worse than in England, and disputes the oft-cited allegation that the issue is somehow worse in Scotland's denominational schools. Homophobia may be "wrapped up in the language of religious belief" in certain schools, he says, but it's "just as much of a problem elsewhere. The TIE campaign doesn't have different strategies for different schools." 

After initial disappointments - their thousands-strong petition to change the curriculum was thrown out by parliament in 2016 - the campaign has won the support of leaders such as Nicola Sturgeon and Kezia Dugdale, and recently, the backing of a majority of MSPs. The Scottish government has set up a working group, and promised a national strategy. 

But for Daly, who himself struggled at a young age with his sexuality and society's failure to accept it, the matter remains an urgent one.  At just 21, he can reel off countless painful stories of young LGBTI students - some of which end in tragedy. One of the saddest elements of the story from St Kentigern's is that the pupil claimed his school was the safest place he had to express his identity, because he was not out at home. Perhaps for a gay pupil in ten years time, that will be a guarantee. 

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