Biden, Warren, Buttigieg: It Is Inhumane to Imprison Trans Women With Men

"Transgender women are women," says Biden's press secretary.

Three top democratic presidential contenders are vowing to end a practice that places many transgender prisoners at risk of sexual assault.

On Sunday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren made headlines by calling for an end to the practice of incarcerating transgender women with men at a campaign rally in Marshalltown, Iowa.

“We have to stop putting trans women who are incarcerated into prisons with men where they are at risk. It is our responsibility,” Warren said in a speech recorded by The Hill.

Other top contenders have since chimed in. In a statement released exclusively to NewNowNext, Joe Biden’s press secretary Jamal Brown says the former vice president is committed to ensuring that transgender people are housed humanely.

“That’s why the Obama-Biden Administration issued guidance on implementing the Prison Rape Elimination Act, which prohibited housing assignments based solely on biological sex and ensured that gender identity was considered in assignments,” Brown said. “Transgender women are women, and their placement in men’s prisons is inhumane.”

Buttigieg also supports placing transgender people in prisons that match their lived genders, his campaign noted to NewNowNext. In October, the candidate released an LGBTQ policy vowing to improve medical care for transgender people behind bars and end the practice of arbitrary solitary confinement.

“A Buttigieg administration will put the full force of the federal government behind ensuring that transgender people are appropriately placed in the correctional facilities that align with their gender identity,” his platform states.

It’s unclear where other 2020 presidential contenders stand on the issue. Spokespeople for Sanders and Klobuchar did not respond to requests to weigh in. Klobuchar hasn’t released an LGBTQ platform. Sanders’ LGBTQ platform does not touch on incarcerated trans people.

FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images
Joe Biden (left) and Bernie Sanders (right).

The Prison Rape Elimination Act—passed unanimously by Congress in 2003 and implemented in 2012—requires states to house transgender people on a case-by-case basis. That means prisons are not allowed to jail transgender people based on their genitalia or birth sex alone. However, advocates say many states have failed to comply with the measure.

The Transgender Law Center (TLC) is currently suing the state of Colorado in a class-action suit for allegedly refusing transgender women transfers to female facilities.

Shawn Meerkamper, a staff attorney at TLC, says the group is eager to hear from presidential candidates about their plans to ease challenges facing incarcerated trans people.

“Like all people, transgender women need health, safety, and respect regardless of whether they are incarcerated,” Meerkamper tells NewNowNext. “We filed a class-action lawsuit in Colorado recently because wherever trans women are incarcerated with men, they are regularly subjected to horrifying abuse, violence, and rape.”

Kate Sosin is an award-winning, trans-identified news and investigative reporter.