Republican U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas introduced a bill today that would require the Bureau of Prisons to house inmates according to their assigned sex at birth and not their gender identity.
Cotton’s bill — titled the Preventing Violence Against Female Inmates Act — would prevent prisons from designating a separate housing option for inmates based on their gender identity.
In a transphobic press release, Cotton said, “A prison would be free to set up specific housing units for transgender inmates based on security, medical, or programming needs,” but trans women could not be housed with cisgender women, nor trans men with cis men.
According to the LGBTQ+ news site Xtra, the legislation was introduced in response to a leaked Department of Justice report about a proposed executive order from President Joe Biden that would require prisons to assign housing in alignment with an inmate’s gender identity.
“My bill will stop the president’s ill-conceived plan and keep men and women separated in federal prison,” Cotton said.
Gabriel Arkles, senior counsel at the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, told Xtra that Cotton’s bill is “scapegoating transgender women” and endangers them further.
“Anyone concerned with violence against women should be worried about the staggering rate of sexual violence against transgender women in men’s prisons,” Arkles said.
President Biden's administration had attempted to bring back policies from the Obama administration that had allowed inmates to be housed according to their gender identity. However, Donald Trump reversed these policies, and inmates were housed according to their gender identity in only exceptional cases.
Cotton, Xtra notes, is taking the Trump position further with this bill.
“The Constitution protects the rights of incarcerated people including transgender people and the federal Bureau of Prisons and state prisons and jails systems have a duty to keep people in their custody safe,” Lambda Legal senior attorney Richard Saenz told the site. “We know that incarcerated transgender women are at risk of sexual assault, rape, and violence when housed in men’s facilities.”
Cotton has a long history of opposing bills aimed at supporting LGBTQ+ rights. He earned a zero — the lowest score possible — on the Human Rights Campaign congressional scorecard during the previous 115th Congress.
In Cotton's home state, an anti-trans bill was passed last year that targets gender-affirming health care for youth. ArkansasHouse Bill 1570, which is the first of its kind passed in the nation, prohibits medical professionals from offering gender-affirming health care, including hormone blockers and treatments. It passed in April after the state’s legislatureoverrode Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s veto.