Dr. Jillian T. Weiss

Philly Tabloid Says Prison Officials Too Easy On Transgender Inmate

Filed By Dr. Jillian T. Weiss | August 26, 2011 10:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Media, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: corrections system, Jovanie Saldana, Philadelphia Daily News, transgender inmates

prison_cell.jpgAnother disrespectful story has come out in the Philadelphia Daily News tabloid about the transfer of a trans prison inmate from a female to a male prison, after she accused a corrections officer of sexual assault. While it's more focused on embarrassing the city prisons commissioner for not putting this transgender prisoner in a men's prison in the first place than anything else, it manages to portray transgender inmates in an equally dismissive light as the first gem of an article that came out last week, in which the words "keister" and "butt" played a major role.

Meanwhile, 23 year old Jovanie Soldana has been punished by being put into a men's prison in obvious retaliation after she had the audacity to speak up about her sexual assault. I have no doubt that she is undergoing a hellish experience, about which we will likely get to know nothing because of the fact that prisons are practically free-speech-free zones, and the Constitution shows up once in a while to take a glance around before shuddering and walking out.

And in this second story, what do I read in the title? "Anatomy is destiny, except in Philly jails." The phrase "anatomy is destiny" is a phrase coined by Freud, intended to indicate that women were not the equals of men, and it was one of the main points that second wave feminists had to fight against in order to be perceived as the equals of men. I thought women were supposed to have equal rights now, despite the oppressive dictates of "anatomy is destiny" thinking of the early twentieth century.

The article is dismissive in its tone regarding the sufferings of transgender inmates. The phrase "such as those that kept Saldana's stones secret" is juvenile, disrespectful and suggests that Saldana is "really" a man, despite the evidence to the contrary.

Inmates are housed by "anatomical gender" regardless of how they identify, meaning that Saldana - who had long hair, arched eyebrows and cleavage when arrested in June 2010, relatives said - should have been jailed in a male facility, according to prison policy. Exceptions are made if an inmate shows "legal and clinical" proof of gender transition, or if officials fear that an inmate's gender identity will be disruptive.

There's much glee over Saldana's breasts, but no discussion of Saldana's gender transition. I don't think the reporter, or the prison commissioner quoted, has any idea of what gender transition means. Gender transition does not mean that one has had vaginoplasty. There are several different types of medical protocols, nor does gender transition does not necessarily imply any particular medical course of treatment.

It was, however, quite commendable that the reporter contacted the National Center for Transgender Equality and quoted the statistics about abuse of transgender inmates. However, there was no follow up to connect it to this story. The story did not include any information about the conditions under which Saldana is being held, or discussion of the retaliatory motive for the transfer.

The fact that Saldana is accused of a serious crime in no way mitigates retaliation against a sexual assault victim. What is happening to Jovanie Saldana today? What do prison officials at her new prison think about Saldana's complaint against their fellow officers? Think they're pleased with her and going out of their way to make her life pleasant? That's the real story here. But not in the Philadelphia Daily News.

The reporter, Dana DiFilippo, may be contacted here. Please be polite - we don't want her thinking we're unhinged also. Just explain, if you are so moved, what your concerns are about the story. The editor, Larry Platt, can be reached at plattl@phillynews.com


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Apparently, trans people are also reduced to "what" by PDN:

"If one inmate slipped through the cracks, who else - or, really, what else - slipped through, too?"

Infuriating.

As for the story itself, it is simply appalling.

But I don't think the "what" refers to trans people. It refers - I think - to objects like drugs, etc, that can enter prison if people are not checked properly.

You could be right, but it reads like a qualification of the who. I know that as a writer, if I'd crafted that, that's certainly the response I could expect.

Since English is not my native language, you are certainly more qualified to say it. I hope that wasn't the intention!

Kathy Padilla | August 26, 2011 2:09 PM

"I don't think the reporter, or the prison commissioner quoted, has any idea of what gender transition means."

"I spoke to one of the reporters on the story, Dana DiFilippo, a crime reporter for the past 11 years in Philadelphia. She noted that the Philadelphia Daily News is a tabloid newspaper, and therefore exempt from any need to be respectful of transgender people."


This is sad but true. It needn't have been the case. The Daily News has had several trainings on these issues - several meetings with the former editor Zach Stallberg, meeting with trans community members (I was at some) & what was then the Center for Civil Rights & GLAAD. They have been made aware many, many times of the AP Stylebook guidelines. They continue to denigrate trans people willfully - ignorance is not a believable excuse. It's purposeful and they feel no need to adjust their behavior. All the more odd given they have actually hired a woman with a trans history to write as a stringer occasionally since the 80's. And - some at Philly Newspapers have trans family members.

Clearly - there's a lack of leadership in the editorial department that fails to train and supervise its reporters and editors properly and uphold standards. Regardless of a particular reporters prejudices - someone approved this story and that language.

As regards the Prison Commissioner - equally a failure on their part. Training was provided to prisons going back to the previous Mayor - research provided on model trans prison policies - all initiated at the request of the the Mayor's LGBT Advisory Board & (then) Mayor's LGBT Liaison - Michael S. Hinson, Jr. - now the Chair of the International Federation of Black Gay Prides. I was part of that team, as well. The former Prisons Commissioner - Leon King - sits on the board of the Philly LGBT Center. It's not as if the resources wouldn't be available if the Commissioner requested instruction - the Mayor's current LGBT Liaison could reach out - the E.D. of the Philly Human Relations Commission is a former Chair of Liberty City Dems and they have published guidelines on respectful inclusion of trans people in compliance with the Fair Practices Ordinance.

The organization has no excuse but bigotry for not having some cultural competency in this matter.

Angela Brightfeather | August 28, 2011 12:48 AM

Of course Kathy, and now we will have to listen to Barney Frank tell us that we have to educate people more. Perhaps your input would should be copied to Frank's office.