US transgender woman, Andrea Jones, has been released from jail, after she was locked up for three weeks for protesting publically against Tennessee’s laws on gender recognition. Now, US trans activists are calling on their community to demonstrate outside the courthouse in Morristown, in that state, when she appears for an initial hearing on 20 December.
Ms Jones’ problems began when she attended Morristown Driver’s License Office in an attempt to change the gender marker on her license. She took with her Social Security documents, which acknowledge her as female, together with a letter from a surgeon affirming that she has had partial re-assignment surgery.
This did not impress the Tennessee Department of Safety, which informed her she’d need more proof to make the same change on her driver’s license.
Frustrated by this response, Ms Jones then staged a one-woman protest, stripping off her top in the car park outside the Driver’s License Office. Her logic: if the state refused to recognise her as a woman, she had every right to strip off in the same way as men.
Instead, she was arrested and jailed on a charge of indecent exposure. According to the arresting officer: “Mr. Jones continued to yell that he had the right to show his breasts in public and wanted to be recognized as a female.”
She was then incarcerated in the state’s male prison for the duration of her time behind bars.
She has lost her job: and, if found guilty of indecent exposure, is likely to be placed on the sex offenders’ register, thereby making her employment prospects even more bleak.
Ms Jones has also argued that some three weeks of the 23 days she spent in jail so far were due to her refusal to acknowledge that the state of Tennessee had a right to dictate her gender in this fashion.
She claims she was pressured, badgered, and coerced every day to confess to committing indecent exposure and plead guilty with only a two day sentence.
The Tennessee Department of Safety have said they will change the sex on a license “if an applicant presents a doctor’s statement indicating that a full sex change has occurred and the procedure is complete.”
Meanwhile, Ms Jones is asking for those wishing to help to e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org
This reflects badly on Tennessee – not least because its very clear public stance in respect of Andrea Jones suggests at best confusion, at worst, an approach that is tantamount to abuse and torture of trans persons.
The statement by the police officer, combined with Ms Jones incarceration in a male jail is clear indication that the state considers this woman to be legally male. In such case, the prosecution for indecent exposure is simply mischievous.
Alternatively – and given that the dangers for trans women in male prisons have been well documented – the mischief was of another kind: the police officer went out of his way to insult, whilst someone in the Tennessee administration is perfectly happy with the possibility that Ms Jones might be assaulted, raped or worse.
That constitutes abuse by the state: it quite likely constitutes torture as well.
Over recent weeks, the UK government has made much of its tough stance with commonwealth countries that have homophobic policies. This plays well with the gay lobby – and is fully justified in its own right.
However, by tacitly implying that the “real problem” lies with less developed countries – and ignoring some major issues on the Developed side of the fence, UK.gov is playing a very unpleasant game of cultural superiority – if not outright racism.
Many US states – Tennessee included – are large enough, rich enough, to pass for individual countries in Europe.
The UK is rightly upset with African countries that practise homophobic abuse as state-sanctioned policy: increasingly, trans activists are pointing out that it might be time for the UK to show similar concerns where the barbarity takes place in the supposedly civilised US.
On a lighter note, this case could yet link up with another US cause celebre – the Go Topless movement – which is a female/feminist inspired campaign demanding equal rights for women to go topless in public.