In October, Republican lawmakers sought to pass several bills aimed at trans residents of Wisconsin, most of which were aimed at trans youth in regard to gender-affirming health care and participation in sports. Another Assembly bill that was put forward got much less attention but is no less an encroachment on the civil rights of trans people in the state. AB 447/SB 438 was put forward to “prohibit incarcerated trans, nonbinary and intersex people from being housed in facilities matching their authentic gender identity. The bill also requires strip searches be conducted by corrections staff whose sex aligns with the incarcerated person’s sex assigned at birth,” according to the ACLU of Wisconsin. They continue, “This bill creates a statutory rule for determining appropriate housing classifications for people in jail and prison instead of allowing for a case-by-case determination as required by the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) standards for placement of those in prisons and jails.”
Lambda Legal, in a study published in 2020, found that “A shocking 47% of Black transgender people, and more than one out of five (21%) transgender women of all ethnicities, are incarcerated during their lifetimes.” They continue that this is mostly because of bias and discrimination in housing, employment, and education, and that the crimes committed by trans people are frequently what they term “poverty-related offenses,” like theft and survival sex-work. In addition to high incarceration rates, “According to data collected by the Bureau of Justice Statistics at the Department of Justice, 40% of incarcerated transgender people have been sexually assaulted—more than 10 times the general prison population rate. Incarcerated transgender people also face an uphill battle accessing gender dysphoria care, such as hormone therapy or gender confirmation surgery, with more than 40% reportedly being denied medically necessary care,” according to the same study.
This is all despite the Prison Rape Elimination Act, which mandates that prisons make housing decisions that ensure the safety of trans people generally, and trans women in particular. AB 447 and SB 438 both go against this mandate, and would actively put trans people in harm’s way. These bills did not get as much public outcry as those targeted at minors, likely because people facing incarceration are seen less sympathetically than minors, but as Lambda Legal pointed out, many of these people are facing incarceration because of systemic failure, and not because of any sort of moral failing. Nevertheless, all people facing incarceration, regardless of their crimes, have the right to safety, dignity, and medical care.
Happily, these two bills have seemed to stall in the legislature, with the last action on them being the public hearing in October. The other bills put forth this fall, those that sought to restrict medical care access to trans minors, and those that sought to limit the ability of trans athletes to participate in sports in both K–12 and college-level athletics, were passed through the legislature, but were vetoed by Governor Evers. Evers, for his part, has always said that he would not sign the bills, telling attendees of the LGBT Chamber of Commerce’s Coming Out Breakfast that “not a single one of those…bills will become law.” He didn’t mention the fact that this is only true while he is governor, outlining the need to keep pushing against these bills despite the promise to veto.