US rolls back protections for transgender prison inmates

May 12 (Reuters) - The Trump administration has rolled back protections for transgender prison inmates introduced under former President Barack Obama after some prisoners challenged the policies in court.

An inmate's biological sex will now be used to make the initial decision as to where transgender prisoners are housed, instead of the gender to which they identify, according to a change in guidelines announced on Friday by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.

The move, decried by transgender rights advocates, comes after four women held at a Texas detention center filed a federal lawsuit. The inmates argued that the previous prison guidelines, introduced in January 2017 just days before Obama left office, put them at greater risk of rape because they might have to share facilities with transgender women.

Under President Donald Trump, the Justice Department said in August that it would evaluate the issues in the lawsuit.

Following Friday's change to the guidelines, first reported by BuzzFeed News, prison authorities are instructed to consider the health and safety of transgender inmates, as well as "whether placement would threaten the management and security of the institution and/or pose a risk to other inmates in the institution."

Bureau of Prisons officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Saturday. But Nancy Ayers, a spokeswoman for the agency, told BuzzFeed News that the new policy takes into account the needs of all federal prisoners "and articulates the balance of safety needs of transgender inmates as well as other inmates."

The move was condemned by transgender activists, who point to official statistics that show transgender inmates are at disproportionate risk of suffering sexual violence.

"The decision to disregard a transgender person's gender identity is harmful and disrespectful," David Stacy, government affairs director of the Human Rights Campaign, a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocacy group, said in a statement.

The Trump administration has sought to ban transgender people from serving in the U.S. military and has taken other steps aimed at rolling back transgender rights.

In October, the administration said a federal law banning gender-based workplace discrimination does not protect transgender employees, reversing another Obama-era position.

In February, Trump rescinded Obama administration guidance that said public schools should let transgender students use the restroom corresponding to their gender identity.

RELATED: Protests against President Trump's proposed transgender military ban

18 PHOTOS
Protests against President Trump's proposed transgender military ban
See Gallery
Protests against President Trump's proposed transgender military ban
People protest U.S. President Donald Trump's announcement that he plans to reinstate a ban on transgender individuals from serving in any capacity in the U.S. military, in Times Square, in New York City, New York, U.S., July 26, 2017. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
A participant cries during a protest against U.S. President Donald Trump's announcement that he plans to reinstate a ban on transgender individuals from serving in any capacity in the U.S. military, in Times Square, in New York City, New York, U.S., July 26, 2017. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
People protest U.S. President Donald Trump's announcement that he plans to reinstate a ban on transgender individuals from serving in any capacity in the U.S. military, in Times Square, in New York City, New York, U.S., July 26, 2017. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
Transgender activist Tanya Walker speaks at a protest against U.S. President Donald Trump's announcement that he plans to reinstate a ban on transgender individuals from serving in any capacity in the U.S. military, in Times Square, in New York City, New York, U.S., July 26, 2017. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
People protest U.S. President Donald Trump's announcement that he plans to reinstate a ban on transgender individuals from serving in any capacity in the U.S. military, in Times Square, in New York City, New York, U.S., July 26, 2017. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
Demonstrators gather to protest U.S. President Donald Trump's announcement that he plans to reinstate a ban on transgender individuals from serving in any capacity in the U.S. military, at the White House in Washington, U.S. July 26, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
A participant dressed as both Russia's President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump attends a protest against Trump's announcement that he plans to reinstate a ban on transgender individuals from serving in any capacity in the U.S. military, in Times Square, in New York City, New York, U.S., July 26, 2017. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
Demonstrators gather to protest U.S. President Donald Trump's announcement that he plans to reinstate a ban on transgender individuals from serving in any capacity in the U.S. military, at the White House in Washington, U.S. July 26, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
COLUMBUS CIRCLE, NEW YORK, UNITED STATES - 2017/07/29: A group of New Yorkers gathered at Columbus Circle across the Trump International Hotel and Tower New York in Central Park to raise their voices in protest against discrimination towards the LGBT community, in the aftermath of the Trump/Pence regime decision to ban transgender people from serving in the U.S. military. (Photo by Erik McGregor/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)
TIMES SQUARE NYC, NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK, UNITED STATES - 2017/07/26: On July 26, 2017, after a series of tweets by President Donald Trump, which proposed to ban transgender people from military service, thousands of New Yorkers took the streets of in opposition. Thousands of transgender soldiers are currently serving in all branches of the United States Armed forces. (Photo by Michael Nigro/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)
TIMES SQUARE NYC, NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK, UNITED STATES - 2017/07/26: On July 26, 2017, after a series of tweets by President Donald Trump, which proposed to ban transgender people from military service, thousands of New Yorkers took the streets of in opposition. Thousands of transgender soldiers are currently serving in all branches of the United States Armed forces. (Photo by Michael Nigro/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)
TIMES SQUARE NYC, NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK, UNITED STATES - 2017/07/26: On July 26, 2017, after a series of tweets by President Donald Trump, which proposed to ban transgender people from military service, thousands of New Yorkers took the streets of in opposition. Thousands of transgender soldiers are currently serving in all branches of the United States Armed forces. (Photo by Michael Nigro/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Protesters gather in front of the White House on July 26, 2017, in Washington, DC. Trump announced on July 26 that transgender people may not serve 'in any capacity' in the US military, citing the 'tremendous medical costs and disruption' their presence would cause. / AFP PHOTO / PAUL J. RICHARDS (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 26: Dozens of protesters gather in Times Square near a military recruitment center to show their anger at President Donald Trump's decision to reinstate a ban on transgender individuals from serving in the military on July 26, 2017 in New York City. Trump citied the 'tremendous medical costs and disruption' for his decision. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JULY 26: Human Rights Campaign supporters hold up signs as the House Democrats along with the LGBT Equality Caucus' Transgender Equality Task Force members hold a press conference outside of the Capitol to call on President Trump to reverse his ban on transgender Americans from serving in the military on Tuesday, July 25, 2017. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Protesters display placards against US President Donald Trump during a demonstration in front of the US Army career center in Times Square, New York, on July 26, 2017. Trump announced on July 26 that transgender people may not serve 'in any capacity' in the US military, citing the 'tremendous medical costs and disruption' their presence would cause. / AFP PHOTO / Jewel SAMAD (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
TIMES SQUARE NYC, NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK, UNITED STATES - 2017/07/26: On July 26, 2017, after a series of tweets by President Donald Trump, which proposed to ban transgender people from military service, thousands of New Yorkers took the streets of in opposition. Thousands of transgender soldiers are currently serving in all branches of the United States Armed forces. (Photo by Michael Nigro/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)
TIMES SQUARE NYC, NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK, UNITED STATES - 2017/07/26: On July 26, 2017, after a series of tweets by President Donald Trump, which proposed to ban transgender people from military service, thousands of New Yorkers took the streets of in opposition. Thousands of transgender soldiers are currently serving in all branches of the United States Armed forces. (Photo by Michael Nigro/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

(Reporting by Maria Caspani; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Tom Brown)

Read Full Story