Hamilton County Sheriff's Office explains separation of transgender woman as LGBTQ community pushes for policy change

Hamilton County Sheriff's Office explains separation of transgender woman as LGBTQ community pushes for policy change

January 23rd, 2019 by Rosana Hughes in Local Regional News

Staff photo by Doug Strickland / The Rev. Alaina Cobb shouts as she is arrested during the Chattanooga Women's March on Saturday, Jan. 19, 2019, in Chattanooga, Tenn. Multiple demonstrators were arrested during the march after walking in Market Street and ignoring police orders to move to the sidewalk.

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

The Hamilton County Sheriff's Office on Wednesday clarified why a transgender woman was separated from the rest of the women after she and four others were arrested Saturday during Chattanooga's women's march.

The activists were arrested after they blocked city streets without a permit and refused to move.

Members of the LGBTQ community understand the sheriff's office reasoning, but are bearing down on a push for the implementation of a policy on how to treat transgender individuals.

Hamilton County assistant attorney Dee Hobbs said that, of the five individuals, Maddie Boyd-Nix was the only one to identify herself as transgender and the only one to have identification that reflected her gender as male and listed her name as William Nix.

But changing one's driver's license to reflect the gender they identify as can be extremely difficult and very costly, said the Rev. Alaina Cobb, speaking on Nix's behalf.

Tennessee, for example, got the lowest possible grade for its driver's license gender change policy, according to the National Center for Transgender Equality.

Individuals must present a proof of surgery, court order and/or an amended birth certificate before they can have their license changed.

"It's not something that can be done easily, especially if you have limited funds or lack of mobility," Cobb said.

In any case, Hobbs said that "because Nix was listed on the driver's license as a male, was identified as transgender, and was dressed in female clothing, it was decided for safety and security reasons to allow Nix to simply sit at the same location the jail allows females to wait [as opposed to the holding cell reserved for females]."

Additionally, Hobbs said, since Nix was set to be released soon after booking, "there was no need to place this detainee in a segregated setting."

Hobbs reiterated federal prison guidelines that require an individual's biological sex to be the initial determining factor when deciding where to house an inmate.

"Here, the driver's license is a factor," he said. "That said, the most important factor, and really the only factor, is where should a detainee be temporarily placed to protect that person as best as possible, and that was done here."

"To the extent that Maddie Boyd-Nix claims that this placement reflected a lack of training or policy, that claim is patently inaccurate. This person was safe in custody, and this is what should be most important to all involved, especially Maddie Boyd-Nix."

Cobb said she understands and agrees that safety is the most important factor.

"[But] it is not the only factor," she said. "Respect for the dignity and humanity of the incarcerated is also of great importance in any system that values restorative justice and not mere punishment."

Additionally, Cobb noted the federal guidelines were only recently changed in May 2018. The rollback came amid a push by the Trump administration to reverse Obama-era guidelines that asked for an inmate's gender identity to be considered when deciding where to house them.

Now, federal guidelines state an inmate's identified gender would be appropriate "only in rare cases" and "where there has been significant progress towards transition as demonstrated by medical and mental health history."

The change came after a group of four Christian women in a Texas prison filed a lawsuit claiming that placing transgender inmates in women's facilities "violates their constitutional rights and their rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act," according to a U.S. Department of Justice filing in the lawsuit.

But, as Cobb also noted, those guidelines are for the federal prison system and not for state or municipal facilities.

That is why she and others in the Chattanooga LGBTQ community are calling for a more robust understanding of transgender issues and the implementation of local policies to guide how sheriff's office and jail personnel treat transgender individuals.

"This is not going to be the only time this happens," she said. "There should be a conversation around this and a guidance going forward and with an understanding that this is not a black and white issue Ideally, there should be an LGBTQ liaison to handle these things with the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office, but in lieu of that, much more specific guidelines are needed."

Cobb pointed to a policy implemented by the Milwaukee Police Department in May 2018 as an example.

The five-page policy spells out in great detail how to interact with and house transgender, intersex and/or gender non-conforming individuals.

"The call for training and guidelines is not only beneficial to the LGBTQ community," Cobb said, "but also to the officers who openly expressed a lack of understanding in how to address and process Ms. Boyd-Nix during her stay."

Contact staff writer Rosana Hughes at rhughes@timesfree press.com or 423-757-6327 with tips or story ideas. Follow her on Twitter @Hughes Rosana.


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