The sheriff of Houston’s Harris County has adopted a new policy designed to protect the rights of LGBT inmates, including allowing trans inmates to be housed based on their gender identity.
Sheriff Adrian Garcia adopted the sweeping measure to prohibit “discrimination or harassment of any kind based on sexual orientation or gender identity,” reports Associated Press.
The 11-page policy, which went into effect on Wednesday, outlines how LGBT inmates are to be searched, booked and housed.
It is accompanied with a separate three-page document also on protecting such inmates from workplace discrimination.
Harris County is now the first in Texas to adopt the extensive of a policy, according to Brandon Wood, executive director of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards.
Harper Jean Tobin, policy director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said: “It represents a significant step forward.”
He added: “This is not a red or blue issue. It is an issue of preventing violence, of meeting the state’s legal and moral responsibilities to keep people safe and safeguarding public funds that when sexual abuse happens in prison need to be spent on medical care and mental health care and recovery.”
Harris County jail currently has around 8,900 inmates. At least 250 of them identify as LGBT.
According to the document, a “safe zone project” will promote a “positive relationship of solidarity” between the sheriff’s department and the gay community. These staff members will wear an obvious identifier so they can be easily spotted.
The sheriff’ said his department will also have “zero tolerance” policy for staff sexual misconduct or sexual harassment toward LGBT inmates, with violations resulting in “termination” or referral for criminal charges or other measures.
Another key section of the policy states that trans inmates will be addressed by their chosen name, even if it is not legally changed.