On Feb. 23, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott directed Family and Protective Services to investigate all trans children and prosecute their parents as child abusers through a letter that also instructed all teachers, doctors, and caregivers to report any trans students they see. Gov. Abbott’s announcement comes on the heels of several states across the country enacting trans youth sports bans, forcing school districts to only allow youth to play on sports teams that align with their gender assigned at birth. Thousands of people rightfully recognized this as another example of institutionalized transphobia targeting kids and shared their anger across social media. Many have sprung into action, calling on us to contact our legislators and donate to LGBTQ+ organizations in impacted areas.
We’ve participated in these actions ourselves, and we’re hopeful that our collective power will strike down these transphobic laws. But as we’ve seen, as soon as one bill is defeated, another pops up in its place. Why? There’s no denying that these proposed bills are transphobic. It is also unequivocally true that transphobia, anti-Blackness, and authoritarianism are already embedded into the fabric of the legal system and most existing bills within it—and until we end it entirely, this system will continue to churn out legislation against trans self-determination. For us as organizers of the Free Ashley Diamond campaign working to free a Black trans woman from prison, we know one thing: we cannot fully stop transphobia without fighting for abolition—a world where we eradicate prisons and policing in all forms.
Written directives such as the one in Texas or the trans sports ban in Georgia might appear just to impact trans youth, however, policing that starts at school often leads to longer-term forms of punishment such as incarceration. While there is a lack of research on trans-specific youth incarceration, studies show that LGBTQ+ youth overall are more likely to experience juvenile incarceration—in part due to how LGBTQ+ kids are forced to engage in self-defense against bullying. Once someone enters the prison-industrial complex, they are more likely to be connected to it throughout the rest of their life. Even if one is freed from a physical prison, the threat of e-carceration, probation, and monitoring and its impacts on one’s ability to move freely makes it so that recidivism rates are extraordinarily high. Limited access to education, stability, and supportive housing or jobs leads to trans people trying to gain economic security via any means necessary, even if it means breaking the law.
While this may seem alarmist, the fact is that trans sports bans and Gov. Abbott’s letter lead not only to the harassment of queer and trans youth but also contribute to the continued criminalization of transness overall. By forcing trans youth to live in the closet, or risk losing their family and education, Gov. Abbott and transphobes are creating a world where not only is being trans looked down upon, it is thought of as morally deviant and even illegal. Furthermore, the carceral state enforces transphobia through its mere existence. It is a system that relies on gender-based violence to operate, which means that trans people, specifically trans women, often serve as its perfect target. Whether it be via gendered prisons (that only consider the genders one is assigned at birth), or the constant fear that trans people live in daily for simply presenting in a way that is outside of the norm, trans-ness is demonized within our society. Trans people are continuously othered in prison, and also cut off from support which often leads to them being more likely to become victims of sexual assaults while incarcerated.
The impact of this transphobic violence has been clear to us as we’ve organized #FreeAshleyNow, a survivor-defense campaign we created to free Ashley Diamond, a Black trans woman activist from Rome, Georgia who is currently incarcerated in Coastal State Prison in Georgia. She is also our friend. After being incarcerated in 2012, the Georgia Department of Corrections placed her in a men’s prison, denied her hormone therapy, and aided and abetted in her ongoing sexual assault. She eventually filed a lawsuit with the Southern Poverty Law Center against the Georgia Department of Corrections, which resulted in an April 2015 decision to provide transgender inmates with “constitutionally appropriate medical and mental health treatment.” Unfortunately, Diamond was re-incarcerated in October 2019 due to a technical parole violation. After being re-incarcerated she was once again placed in a men’s facility, where she has inconsistent access to hormones, and fears for her safety. Since being reincarcerated in October 2019, Ashley has experienced more than 15 sexual assaults, and as outlined by her lawyers at the Center for Constitutional Rights, the Georgia Department of Corrections has destroyed video evidence that “would have corroborated her accounts of abuse”.
Fighting for trans youth is essential during these new waves of legislation. We should all be doing whatever we can to avoid normalizing this horrifying news. However, we fear that transphobia, and transphobic violence (specifically transmisogynistic violence towards trans women and femmes), will continue to reinvent itself in new ways unless we firmly commit to abolition in the fight for trans justice. In an abolitionist world, Diamond would have the ability to live free from fear. She would be able to live in dignity amongst her community, and her basic needs would be met. In an abolitionist world, trans youth would have the care they deserve, and not have to hide who they are in order to access education. They would be able to participate in sports and extracurricular activities and also live with the knowledge that as they grew up they wouldn’t have to face the threat of criminalization that is Diamond’s current reality. We have to destroy transphobia by eradicating every system that upholds it, and that begins with the criminal legal system.