Do you cover transgender and sexual orientation issues in your psychology courses? Before or after your coverage, ask students where incarcerated transgender people should be housed. Should they be housed based on the appearance of their physical body or based on their outward gendered appearance? In other words, if someone was born male, identifies and dresses as female, is convicted of a crime, and sentenced to time in prison, should the person be sent to a women’s prison or to a men’s prison?
States determine where an inmate should be housed based on genitalia (Routh et al., 2017). That means that transgender women who have not had sex reassignment surgery are housed in men’s prisons.
Have students listen to the 35-minute Episode 18 of the Ear Hustle podcast, broadcasting from San Quentin State Prison. (There is a little salty language and a lot of frank discussion; the LGBT part of the episode runs about 27 minutes.)
Questions for students to consider as they listen to the podcast. After listening, students can discuss their responses in an online class discussion board, in small groups during class, or as an entire class:
How many out gay men are there at San Quentin? What reasons do the prisoners give for that number?
How many transgender women are there at San Quentin?
Who is Lady J? Write a short biography for Lady J. What is your reaction to Lady J’s story?
How have attitudes toward transgender women in prison changed since the 1980s?
Who is Mike? Write a short biography for Mike. What is your reaction to Mike’s story?
Compare attitudes toward transgender women and gay men in your community with the attitudes in San Quentin.
What is your reaction to this podcast episode?
As of 2015, nine U.S. states provided sex reassignment surgery for state prisoners, including California. Most states provide counseling, some states will start hormone treatments whereas others will only maintain hormone treatment if the inmate has started prior to incarceration (Routh et al., 2017). Investigate what policies are in place for your state or province.
Routh, D., Abess, G., Makin, D., Stohr, M. K., Hemmens, C., & Yoo, J. (2017). Transgender inmates in prisons: A review of applicable statutes and policies. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 61(6), 645–666. https://doi.org/10.1177/0306624X15603745