by Diana Block
On Wednesday October 30th, over sixty people rallied in front of the CDCR office building in Sacramento to demand an end to the sexual and gender-based violence that has targeted trans and gender non-conforming (TGNC) people in California’s prisons. The spirited gathering marched, chanted and listened as many formerly incarcerated people denounced the sexual and physical abuse they endured while inside prison. Stacy Rojas, lead plaintiff in a lawsuit filed against the CDCR about the assaults, described their efforts to document incidents of guard abuse which led to a brutal attack against them and several other people in 2015. Another speaker explained that “we are only asking for them to be held accountable. The (prison) system is designed to hurt people who don’t conform. When you speak out about that, you become endangered.”
According to the California Coalition for Women Prisoners, CCWP, “On November 9, 2017 four people of color – a transgender man, a gender non-conforming person and two queer female prisoners – who were all at one time incarcerated at the Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF), filed a lawsuit against the State of California and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). The lawsuit denounces two vicious assaults where correctional officers beat up, sexually harassed, hurled homophobic and transphobic insults at, and tormented the plaintiffs. The plaintiffs were then denied medical treatment for their injuries and were prevented from filing grievances about the assaults they had experienced. The assaults are particularly reprehensible because the plaintiffs are all survivors of sexual trauma and violence and were assaulted while advocating for their basic human rights.
“The assaults originally took place on November 11, 2015, when Stacy Rojas, a gender non-conforming former prisoner was brutally attacked by correctional officers after warning that they intended to complain to the prison’s internal investigation unit about repeated harassment by guards regarding their gender. Rojas’ cell mates were subsequently attacked when they indicated that they would report the use of excessive force against Rojas. All three were then confined for nearly twelve hours in small programming cages and subject to sexually humiliating and abusive treatment. This included having their clothing cut off of their bodies, having their breasts and chests stomped on by guard boots, and being told that male guards could “show them what a real man is” while making reference to the size of their penises. They were then put in solitary confinement without cause and without receiving medical treatment for their injuries or being allowed to use the restroom.”
The rally was a powerful expression of outrage at repeated experiences of harassment and violence. It also demonstrated a fierce determination to work to ensure changes for those who remain behind bars. Demands included an end to the assaults and targeting of TGNC people in prison; a strict process to hold guards and staff accountable for abusive actions; and an end to retaliation against whistleblowers who report abuses. Plans are underway to hold a statewide Peoples Hearing in 2020 that can clearly expose what’s going on in prisons in California and all over the country and mobilize broad grassroots support for demands for change.