In a landmark decision for Cape Town transgender rights, the Equality Court ruled that transgender inmate Jade September, held in a male prison, could identify as a woman. The inmate filed an appeal before the court in 2016 for suffering discrimination at the hands of Helderstroom Prison officials.
In her appeal, September claimed she wasn’t allowed to wear makeup, jewelry, or female underwear and had to cut her hair. In this way, Helderstroom and Malmesbury correctional facilities (she’s doing time at the latter at present) prohibited her from expressing her identity as a female.
Sanja Bornman, September’s attorney, said the ruling set a precedent that prisons nationwide must “respect, protect, and promote the rights of transgender inmates” from now on. According to Bornman, correctional facilities can no longer force or compel trans inmates to present or behave in ways incongruent with their identity or otherwise deny them the right to express their identity.
The ruling makes it clear that gender identity is part of a person’s right to dignity, equality, and freedom of expression. To deny someone the right to self-expression is to encroach upon these rights.
September was elated by the verdict. She perceives it as a victory for the entire trans community.
September is serving a 15-year sentence for the murder of 65-year old Graham Flax in the latter’s flat in 2013. The inmate, who went under the name of Jerome Benjamin at that time, claimed she (then he) was under the influence of drugs during the act.
Benjamin and Flax had met online and had agreed to meet in person. On the night of the murder in Sea Point, Flax picked Benjamin up at his home. They went back to Sea Point, where, according to Benjamin, the 65-year old gay man went to sleep. Benjamin had taken some stimulants and couldn’t go to sleep. In his statement before the Regional Court of Cape Town, Benjamin says he went into the man’s kitchen, took a bottle of whiskey, went back to the bedroom and “hit the deceased with the bottle over the head,” adding that the drugs had not clouded their judgment.
September has expressed great regret since and has undergone a poignant transformation. She says she is reliving the murder in her head every day, which is punishment enough, and her sentence will never bring the victim back.