News Feed: State-sanctioned transgender abuse in Tennessee

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 berdache1979@yahoo.com

Analysis

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.

8 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Shirley Anne said,

    Wow what a canful of worms! On the one hand I see Ms Jones refusing to comply with the law of the state, on principle I have to admit but probably a silly thing to do. One person versus the state has its merits if that person is in the right. I wonder why she just didn’t wait until her transition was complete, as the authorities then would have had to comply else they would have been in the wrong. On the other hand I can see the State manipulating the law to justify the abuse to Ms Jones. Although their actions are detestable they could have been avoided had Ms Jones simply complied. Provoking the authorities especially as they had the upper hand was a bit of a stupid thing to do. There are other ways to beat the system considering the authorities were acting, as you put it Jane, mischieviously. I’d hate to be a lawyer in this case and there surely will be one.
    It is discusting too that so called civilised countries are quick to point the finger at the Third World for human rights offences but are not as willing to do so with their allies.

    Shirley Anne

  2. 3

    Jane Bloggs said,

    Shirley Anne:
    So what if she is a transgender woman who doesn’t want genital surgery , or what the state classed as “a sex change”? The state has no right to tell this woman how she should identify . I think shes very brave for taking the stand she took , and , although I see what your getting at ,its a bit patronising to call her protest foolish tbh .

  3. 4

    Shaun said,

    It all seems very strange and completely appalling – What if someone has “man boobs” ? There are plenty of people with those around. Do they get prosecuted for baring their chest ?

    It’s all completely pathetic and rather “sad” really.

  4. 5

    […] Jones, a Tennessean with far more pluck, dignity, and courage than I think I could ever manage, knew the law was an ass on this, and said, quite simply, after […]

  5. 6

    AJS said,

    This is really only an issue in the first place because the law is creating — and maintaining — a distinction where none need exist.

    Why need a person’s driving licence be labelled according to what is between their legs, and why need a person conform to a stereotype based thereupon?

    Treat people as *people* rather than as men and women who absolutely must be kept apart from one another, and the problem simply vanishes!

  6. 7

    valeriekeefe said,

    I thought you might like to know that I cited your article in reference to the abysmal treatment that Andrea had received from the State of Tennessee on an article I’ve written for Huffington Post.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/valerie-keefe/pardon-andrea-jones_b_1098889.html?ref=transgender

  7. 8

    Carla Lewis said,

    Not be greedy, but when WATE broke this story the other night, I was fumed. The next morning I was able to get Andrea’s phone number an call her. From that personal interview, I wrote a comprehensive blog post.

    Over the last year I have brought to public awareness some of the antics of Tennessee’s most homophobic legislator, Stacy Campfield, the assault of transgender woman Akisha Adonis at the Kohl’s Black Friday sale, and most notably the alleged homophobic arson of Carol Ann and Laura Stutte’s home.

    In each of these, plus Andrea’s situation, I seem to be the only one willing to pickup the phone and talk to the subject of the story. Yet time and time again, my material is harvested without attribution.

    I feel necessary to correct myself too. I originally reported that she had been in jail of 23 days, when, in fact, it turned out to be only 21. If there had been attribution in this blog post (or in the blog post that you obtained your information from), I would have known who to send a correction to.

    Other than that, you provided a great article and summary of events. Thank you for spreading her story. I hope that something positive comes from her suffering.


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