A U.K. transgender woman who had vowed to kill herself if she was sent to a men’s prison was found dead in just such a prison last week.
Vicky Thompson (pictured above), 21, was found unresponsive at Armley, a men’s prison in Leeds, England, last Friday evening, and was pronounced dead shortly thereafter, London’s Guardian reports. The nation’s Prison Service announced her death on Thursday, with no word on the cause or if it was indeed a suicide. The announcement noted, “as with all deaths in custody there will be an investigation by the independent prisons and probation ombudsman.” Local police said there was nothing suspicious about her death.
Activists and politicians, however, said Thompson’s death points up the need to reform how the U.K. treats trans inmates. “The guidelines [on where to send transgender prisoners] are either not being implemented properly or they are not fit for purpose and I intend to find out which it is,” Cat Smith, a member of Parliament, told the Guardian. “It must have been terrifying to be driven into a men’s prison after living her whole adult life as a woman. But we’ll never get to hear Vicky’s testimony of what it was like in there for her.”
“Any woman would not be happy to be in a male prison regardless of any gender identity history,” said Alex Kaye, an activist with transgender group SafeT, in an interview with the BBC.
A judge had denied Thompson’s request to send her to New Hall, a women’s prison, the Guardian reports. Her attorney, Mohammed Hussain, told the judge she had not undergone gender-affirming surgery but had lived as a female since her mid-teens.
The U.K. Ministry of Justice assigns prisoners to men’s or women’s facilities based on their legal gender, usually the one found on their birth certificate. Those who have transitioned can obtain a “gender recognition certificate” and a new birth certificate, and those who transition while in prison “should in most cases be transferred to the estate of their acquired gender,” according to the ministry’s rules.
If someone is “sufficiently advanced in the gender reassignment process,” they can be sent to a facility for people of their “acquired gender” even if their have not received the gender recognition certificate, the rules state. If prisoners raise issues regarding the facility they’re in, their situation is reviewed on a case-by-case basis.
Thompson had been sent to prison because she violated the terms of an earlier suspended sentence, but neither the Guardian nor the BBC reported what crime the suspended sentence was imposed for.
If you are a trans or gender-nonconforming person considering suicide, Trans Lifeline can be reached at 877-565-8860. LGBT youth (ages 24 and younger) can reach the Trevor Project Lifeline at 1-866-488-7386. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 can also be reached 24 hours a day by people of all ages and identities.