Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Trans inmate in Salt Lake County jail complains of abuse

Posted By on December 28, 2010, 4:30 PM

A male-to-female transgender Hispanic claims she has been victimized by guards during his current incarceration in the Salt Lake County jail.---

Davila-Escobedo, 32, has female breasts and male genitals. A discussion of who she is can be confusing. "I'm a man I know, but I have woman's parts," she says in Spanish. She has been incarcerated in the male wing of the jail since she was picked up last month on an outstanding warrant relating to a guilty plea for joyriding.

I met Davila-Escobedo while researching a cover story earlier this year called Kings of Queens. I knew her then as Monica. I interviewed her several times and she shed some light on the tough, demanding and often dangerous life of Hispanic transgender male-to-females who worked endless hours in salons to%uFFFDearn money%uFFFDfor%uFFFDsurgerical procedures.

"I want to be with men, it would be punishment to be with women," she says, when asked if she wouldn't prefer to be incarcerated with women. She uses a pencil for eyeliner, "because that's who I am, I can't be a man."

Davila-Escobedo is undocumented and has already been deported once. She was in minimum security, while she waited for a defense attorney who failed three times to show up for court dates. Davila-Escobedo says she has other transgender friends in jail, but they do not have breasts. Her female body parts became an issue on Dec. 7, she alleges, when three or more guards sexually harassed her.

Davila-Escobedo claims she and a male inmate were both ordered to strip before several guards. "I felt completely vulnerably and [...] while these guards kept trying and thinking of new ways to joke and tease me," she wrote in a grievance form. Three or more guards made crude comments, "asking one another if "it have hair on its nuts?" Davila-Escobedo continued that she told the guards they had to respect her, but they replied they didn't and "to make sure you spell my name right" on the grievance form.

The alleged abuse continued, with comments such as "who is cellmates with it?", "You going to breast feed tonight?" and "whose turn to sleep with it tonight?" Davila-Escobedo claimed in her grievance form that because officers were involving other inmates in their abuse, "my safety was in [jeopardy]."

After she filed the complaint, she was moved to maximum security, she says, where she is allowed out of her cell one hour every two days. The conditions "drive you mad," she says. "They will not take into account my personal lifestyle." Now she is housed with child murderers and sexual abusers. Instead of being treated, she says, as a "victim" of sexual harassment, she struggles to cope with panic attacks from being locked-up so long.

While Davila-Escobedo waits for a response to her grievance, she also hopes to challenge his deportation to Mexico by requesting asylum, because, she says, her transgender status makes her a target for violence, and she will be forced by local drug gangs in her home state to work as a prostitute and sell drugs. She has been stabbed three times by "local drug lords," she wrote in a letter requesting asylum to ICE. The drug lords "have a particular 'hate' for persons of 'sexual' differences/preferences like myself. I am in fear of my life to be returned there."

Davila-Escobedo is scheduled to appear before Judge Vernice Trease in Third District Court on Jan. 7, the day before her 33rd birthday.

At the time of posting this blog, the Salt Lake County jail had not responded to a request for comment.

Editor's note: Some changes were made to this blog post due to reader concerns about the word "tranny" used to refer to trans individuals. The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (they also ally with trans people), classifies "tranny" as defamatory. We changed the word in the headline from "tranny" to "trannsexual" as commenters had suggested (see below) to avoid the potential appearance of insensitivity. That change itself concerned other readers who e-mailed us to say that the word in the headline really should be "transgender," and so we're changing it again. Transsexual (traditionally used as a noun or adjective) refers to someone transitioning from one gender to the other, while transgender (only an adjective) is a wider term that is inclusive not just to transsexual people, but also to individuals who do not fit neatly into the gender they were assigned at birth (some people see themselves as genderless, for example, or maybe present as both genders at various times).

More important than any other advice GLAAD gives on this subject, though, is that we should defer to the source and his or her (or zer) preference as to terminology and preferred gender pronouns. Unfortunately, we don't know what Davila-Escobedo generally prefers or would prefer specifically for this article, and for obvious reasons, I have major difficulties determining whether--at this moment, in this predicament, for this article--she would prefer to be referred to as a he, ze or she, as a transsexual, transgender person, trans person or simply a tranny. We're going with female pronouns and trans.

If any of you are still unhappy with our choice of vocabulary,register your complaint in comments below or e-mail me at jfruhwirth@cityweekly.net. Thanks. --Jesse Fruhwirth, digital news editor

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