by Oliver Holmes
On Friday 13th November 2015, Keighley woman Vikki Thompson was found dead in her cell at A Wing inside Armley Jail. Her partner Bob Steele asks why? Why wasn’t she checked every 15 minutes? Anyone with an ounce of humanity asks “Why was she on the sex offenders’ wing of a male prison?” Vikki was Transgender. When I met her 4 years ago she told me: “I’m not Transgender, I’m a girl.”
The Ministry of Justice claims “It is our long standing policy to place offenders according to their gender. However our guidelines allow room for discretion and, in such cases, medical experts will review the circumstances in order to protect the emotional wellbeing of the person concerned. Our top priority is the safety and welfare of those in our custody and decisions relating to the location of our transgender prisoners are taken by a range of people including psychologists, healthcare professionals and prison staff”.
Vikki was failed by the system before she died as many transgender people are.
Bradford based safeT (Strength, Awareness, Freedom and Empowerment for Transgender people) have been supporting Jack for 5 years. Like Vikki, Jack was in care following the murder of his father. Jack was assessed by a psychiatrist when he was aged 7.
“He explained what girls and boys had in their underwear and told me I should be wearing ‘girls’ clothes and playing with dolls”.
Jack was a boy with breasts and often a target of abuse. Like other victims of transphobic Hate Crime, the police failed him. An incident on a train where Jack was being verbally abused, lead to police involvement. Jack was distraught and scared as the police decided he was the person at fault and he hit one of them when he resisted arrest. He received a one year custodial sentence and was sent to a women’s prison. In prison he voiced his dislike for the female parts of his body and talked about the masculine aspects of his personality. This was diagnosed as schizophrenia and he was transferred to a female forensic security hospital. He shared the ward with 10 other patients, two of whom had killed their own children. Jack alleges that he was abused sexually and mentally by other patients and this went unchallenged by staff. The system has damaged him. He’s overweight due to medication and cannot receive hormone therapy until he loses weight. So he’s stuck in a female body, in a halfway house for women where he feels unsupported and let down by ‘carers’ who still haven’t received any training on Transgender Awareness.
IT’S MY RIGHT – a short film about gender identity and rights for transgender people, made by Yorkshires Transgender Youth has been dedicated to Vikki. It is currently available on you tube.
Bernard Reed, a Trustee of the Gender Identity Research and Education Society (GIRES) says, “Recent studies in the UK and overseas indicate that at least one person in 100 will experience varying degrees of gender variance. Hence, it is likely that everyone will know a transgender person. To help transgender people, society has to respect and understand them”.
Research carried out by Pace and Brunel University in November 2014 revealed that 48 percent of young gender variant people have attempted suicide. The national average is 0.6 percent.
For further information, visit www.safetuk.org, www.gires.org.uk, www.genderedintelligence.co.uk