Let me wear women's clothing in jail‚ demands transgender killer

Jade September wants to compel the head of Malmesbury prison and the department of correctional services to stop forcing her to conform to a male identity.
Jade September wants to compel the head of Malmesbury prison and the department of correctional services to stop forcing her to conform to a male identity.
Image: Gallo Images

A transgender murderer serving a 15-year prison sentence is going to court to demand the right to express her gender through her hairstyle‚ dress and make-up.

Jade September‚ who was jailed in 2013 after pleading guilty to killing 65-year-old Graham Flax in Cape Town while under the influence of drugs‚ will argue her case later this month in the Equality Court.

She wants to compel the head of Malmesbury prison and the department of correctional services to stop forcing her to conform to a male identity just because she has been incarcerated in a prison for men.

Sanja Bornman of Lawyers for Human Rights said the prison system had singled out‚ harassed and unfairly discriminated against September for expressing her gender identity‚ contrary to the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act.

“As is often the case for transgender people in South Africa‚ she never had an opportunity to change the gender marker in her ID‚ nor has she ever had access to gender-affirming healthcare. For these reasons‚ she is incarcerated as a man‚” said Bornman.

“She has been subject to verbal abuse and harassment from prison officials‚ and at one stage was placed in segregated confinement after trying to express her gender. Her personal items have been arbitrarily confiscated‚ and she was forced to cut off her braided hair‚ which is a marker of Ms September’s feminine identity.

“This treatment‚ in more than one prison facility‚ has traumatised Ms September and caused considerable damage to her mental health‚ resulting in a suicide attempt in December 2017.”

This treatment‚ in more than one prison facility‚ has traumatised Ms September and caused considerable damage to her mental health‚ resulting in a suicide attempt in December 2017.

Bornman said September did not want to be transferred to a women’s prison.

“Because [she] has never had access to gender-affirming health care‚ she is likely to stand out even more and be at greater risk of victimisation and violence in a women’s prison‚” she said.

“For this reason‚ it is the duty of state to accommodate her where she currently is…because there are no separate prisons for transgender or gender non-conforming people. In fact‚ as far as prison laws and policies are concerned‚ transgender people simply do not exist. This is unacceptable.”

Lawyers for Human Rights said the prisons department claimed September must conform to a male identity for her own safety.

“However‚ they have failed to submit evidence to show that Ms September’s expression of her gender identity‚ specifically‚ puts her at any more risk than any other inmate in prison.

“Unlawful discrimination‚ especially by state employees‚ is not part of anyone’s prison sentence‚” said Bornman.

In court papers‚ September says her treatment at Malmesbury prison “caused me to feel extremely demeaned and deprived of my identity”.

“My gender expression…goes to the core‚ and is the essence of who I consider myself to be as a human being.”

September‚ 35‚ who was tried in the Cape Town Regional Court in 2013 as Jerome Benjamin‚ murdered Flax after they met on a website and agreed to a face-to-face encounter.

Flax picked him up at his house in Delft and took him to his flat in Costa Bravo‚ in Beach Road.

“The deceased went to sleep and I joined him about 20 minutes later. But I couldn’t fall asleep because I was under the influence of drugs. I went to the kitchen and took a bottle of whisky. I went to the bedroom and hit the deceased over the head with the bottle‚” Benjamin said in the plea statement.

Flax awoke and a struggle ensued. Benjamin said he saw a knife and stabbed Flax. He later handed himself over to the police.

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