dana liebelson

Dana Liebelson


Dana Liebelson is a reporter in Mother Jones' Washington bureau. Her work also appears in Marie Claire and The Week. In her free time, she plays electric violin and bass in a punk band.

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Department of Education: Title IX Prohibits Discrimination Against Transgender Students

| Tue Apr. 29, 2014 3:33 PM EDT

On Tuesday, the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) issued explicit guidance barring schools that receive federal Title IX funds from discriminating against transgender and gender-nonconforming students.

"Title IX’s sex discrimination prohibition extends to claims of discrimination based on gender identity or failure to conform to stereotypical notions of masculinity or femininity and OCR accepts such complaints for investigation. Similarly, the actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity of the parties does not change a school’s obligations," the guidance reads.

Human rights advocates are praising the new policy: "We hear from hundreds of students each year who simply want to be themselves and learn at school,” Masen Davis, Executive Director of Transgender Law Center, said in a statement. "Sadly, many schools continue to exclude transgender students from being able to fully participate. Now, every school in the nation should know they are required to give all students, including transgender students, a fair chance at success."

"This guidance is crystal clear and leaves no room for uncertainty on the part of schools regarding their legal obligation to protect transgender students from discrimination," said Ian Thompson, ACLU legislative representative, in a statement. The ACLU notes that the guidance builds upon the 2012 ruling from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission protecting transgender employees from workplace discrimination.

The Title IX program is a Nixon-era law that bans schools that receive federal funding from engaging in sex discrimination. But the requirement hasn't always extended to transgender students. The Transgender Law Center is currently representing a transgender man who filed a federal lawsuit alleging that the University of Pittsburgh violated his rights under Title IX, among other laws.  While he was a student, the university allegedly banned him from using the men's restrooms and later expelled him after he continued using the men's facilities.


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Report: Solitary Confinement Used to Punish Female Prisoners Who Report Rape

| Thu Apr. 24, 2014 10:52 AM EDT

When an incarcerated pregnant woman in Illinois slept too long through mealtime, a guard decided to punish her by placing her in solitary confinement. While in isolation, the woman—who had a long history of depression—was denied access to her prenatal vitamins and was not given water for hours. She soon became highly anxious. This is one of the disturbing ways that US prisons treat incarcerated women who are pregnant, transgender, mentally ill, or who report that they are raped, according to a new report published Thursday by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

Many of the reasons women are placed in isolation are highly subjective, the reports notes: "Because many cases come down to the word of a prisoner against the word of a corrections officer, a guard’s bad day can easily turn into a solitary confinement sentence for a prisoner for retaliatory reasons, such as a prisoner’s filing a grievance."

Solitary confinement, where prisoners are isolated for 22-24 hours a day with greatly reduced human contact and access to sunlight, is common practice in US prisons, but its harmful effects are well-documented. A United Nations torture expert said in 2011 that solitary should never be used on people with mental disabilities, and should never last longer than 15 days. In February, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) called for US prisons to stop using solitary confinement on vulnerable populations, including pregnant women. And recently, the Justice Department sued Ohio for placing mentally ill boys in solitary confinement for excessive amounts of time. 

According to the ACLU report, guards sometimes use solitary confinement to retaliate against women who report rape by corrections officers. As we reported in 2010, Michelle Ortiz, who was serving one year at the Ohio Reformatory for Women, alleged that she was sexually assaulted multiple times by a guard. When she spoke out, she was allegedly placed in solitary confinement. In another case, a prisoner named Lisa Jaramillo served more than 100 days in solitary confinement for allegedly lying about incidents of sexual assault.

"Women who have been sexually abused by prison guards are...forced to decide between reporting the attack and risking retaliation, or not reporting it and risking further assault," the report reads. The authors note that the lack of privacy in solitary cells can further victimize women. In solitary, a woman's attacker can closely watch her sleep, use the toilet, or undress.

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