There is a lot of talk about systemic oppression and institutional racism in the circles I am a part of. However, I am facing something that I am having a hard time making it fit in those frameworks. So, I’m wanting to build on that and coin a new term… “systemic discrimination.”
Let me start from the beginning of what caused me to tumble down this particular rabbit hole of thought.
The Washington DoC is still claiming to be working on putting together trans-inclusive policies; while they’re (not) working on that I have been fighting with them to do something about their pat search policy. “DOC 420.310 Searches of Offenders” says that male officers are not to pat-search female inmates. The trouble is that nowhere in DoC policy are the words “male” or “female” defined. Because of this lack of definition, male officers are being allowed to pat-search trans femme inmates. In fact, even if an officer has previously a sexually assaulted or harassed a person they are still allowed to pat-search that person. How do I know all this? Experience.
I was asked to stand for search by an officer by the name of Van Gerwin not too long ago. He had been harassing me and had touched me inappropriately on a couple occasions. I filed a staff misconduct report on him and let administration know that I was worried he was going to do worse considering he had a reputation for physically assaulting inmates and I had witnessed him do so on multiple occasions.
So he asked me to stand for search, again, after I had watched him beat up a cuffed inmate, again, and I panicked (a little, it was a little panic) and froze for about 10 seconds while asking for a female officer to pat search me or to be able to speak to the lieutenant. I got put in the hole for 2 months because this is “refusing to stand for search” according to the WA DoC.
Wait! It gets better! So I appealed the infraction, and when the response came back from Assistant Superintendent Michelle Woods, she said “You are incorrect when you state that being housed in a male facility is irrelevant. You are at a male facility so you fall under DOC male pat search requirements.”
So… apparently the DoC’s official position is that because I am in a male space, that they put me in, I am male.
So I submitted my complaint to the grievance office about this and specifically pointed out that this goes against Washington State’s antidiscrimination law RCW 49.60.030. The grievance office told me that they would not process my grievances because I put both my legal name and my name of incarceration on it.
So I’ve gotten the paperwork together and will be sending copies of all this to various places that will (hopefully) care enough to give me a little help. There’s the usual subjects like the ACLU and the attorney general’s office. But there’s also other places like the UW Law Clinic, Lambda Legal, Columbia Legal Services, and others.
Like I said at the beginning, it’s institutional, but not racism. It’s kinda like systemic oppression, but all the people doing the oppressing either know each other, or at least have each other’s emails. So it’s more an active maintaining of the status quo than the system passively doing so. It’s definitely transphobic, but these same tactics are used against people of color, pagans, Muslims, Jews, immigrants, and really any other marginalized group you care to name.
It’s systemic discrimination.
Editor’s Note: support Amber in funding her gender transition by sharing or donating to her YouCaring page.