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Cover-up? ACLU sues to block release of data on number of male-to-female transgender prisoners

A feminist legal activist says the civil liberties group's move is an attempt to keep the public in the dark about "the harm posed to women by forcing them to be housed with violent male prisoners."

Updated: April 15, 2021 - 10:36pm

After the ACLU of Washington convinced a federal judge to halt the release of data on the number of transgender inmates in the state's prisons, a feminist activist group is lashing out, accusing the venerable civil liberties group of covering up the danger to female inmates posed by housing violent male-to-female transgender prisoners in women's facilities.

The ACLU suit is an attempt to "prevent the public from knowing this data, so that the harm posed to women by forcing them to be housed with violent male prisoners will continue to go under the public's radar," said Lauren Adams, legal director of the Women's Liberation Front (WoLF), in an interview.

Last week, the ACLU of Washington notified a woman who had filed a public records request for the transgender data that it was seeking an emergency temporary restraining order and injunction to stop the request from being fulfilled, claiming transgender prisoners would face harm if the numbers were released.

The records requested "do not include any personally identifying information, names, or details," WoLF, which is representing the unidentified woman, told Just the News. She only asked for "five numbers — aggregate information that would not identify any individuals."

WoLF, a self-described radical feminist group that opposes transgender policies such as the Equality Act, blasted the ACLU Wednesday for "blatantly disregarding their own values and past work in an attempt to suppress information related to how gender identity is impacting women's prisons."

WoLF referred to the ACLU effort as a strategic lawsuit against public participation, or SLAPP, in an email blast. It said its client learned how to file the request from ACLU materials. The radical feminist group got involved after the woman was named as an "interested party" in the ACLU suit.

The March 18 records request seeks a "complete and accurate count of inmates who identify as transgender" in the custody of the Department of Corrections.

It also sought counts on how many inmates had been transferred from men's to women's facilities and vice versa since January 1; how many "male persons" who don't identify as men are in women's facilities; and how many "female persons" who don't identify as women are in men's facilities.

The ACLU said it was representing "current and former transgender, non-binary, and intersex inmates" in custody of the Washington Department of Corrections. The motion for a temporary restraining order said the Department of Corrections "will not agree to withhold records" while U.S. District Judge Thomas Rice considers its motion for a preliminary injunction.

"Once records have been released, there would be no turning back," and the "safety and lives" of the unidentified prison clients "would be placed in great peril," the ACLU argued.

Rice approved the TRO on April 8, according to the docket. He scheduled a hearing on the motion for preliminary injunction on May 12.

Serial killer, sex offender moved from men's to women's prison

The motion for preliminary injunction says KIRO Radio and the Tacoma News Tribune also requested records from the Department of Corrections shortly before WoLF's client did.

The Seattle-area media outlets asked for more detailed information about prisoners, including their names and disciplinary histories. The motion said "purported" Department of Corrections (DOC) staff leaked private information about transgender inmates to KIRO on March 10.

A KIRO host did a March 8 segment on a DOC employee who "reached out to us for help on behalf of employees and inmates," and a March 9 segment on a serial killer and a sex offender who were transferred from men's to women's prison.

DOC found records responsive to the requests that "contain intensively personal and private" information about the ACLU's prison clients, including sexual history and orientation, "history of sexual victimization," anatomy and mental health.

The ACLU said its clients already went through "risk assessment" for likelihood to commit or suffer sexual assault, and "housing protocol processes" related to their gender identities. They had to provide their gender identities to prison officials to receive necessary treatment, the ACLU said, but some "actively hid" their gender identities from inmates.

It's not clear why the lawsuit ropes in WoLF's client, given that her request only asks for numbers of transgender prisoners rather than personal information about them. "She must now fight the lawsuit if she wants to have her lawful [Public Records Act] request completed," the radical feminist group said.

According to WoLF, the Department of Corrections didn't respond to its client's public records request within five business days as required by state law. The April 8 rejection notice from the department, which cited the ACLU suit filed the previous day, says it responded to the requester on March 20.

Though WoLF is not naming its client "for her safety," the woman is identified on the interested parties page of the docket along with the media outlets.

Neither the ACLU of Washington nor Disability Rights Washington, which also challenged the public records request, responded to Just the News queries Wednesday.

Among the individuals filing declarations in the case: University of California San Francisco psychiatry professor Dan Karasic, who has created transgender health programs, and Kathleen Dennehy-Fay, onetime Department of Corrections chief for then-Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

WoLF told The Post Millennial it was suspicious of how the ACLU found out about its client's public records request.

The requester told the outlet that she made the request "after learning about cases abroad where violent male offenders were housed in women's prisons, including a case where a woman became pregnant as a result." 

She denounced the "shameful lack of impartial media reporting" on the transgender prison issue.