Govt appeals ruling on pronouns for transgender women inmates

Leilani Tafao transgender women inmates

The Queensland government and prison operator Serco will appeal a ruling by the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCATA) that prison staff must refer to transgender women inmates by female pronouns. The tribunal found that Serco and a prison director discriminated against inmate Leilani Tafao. Tafao brought an action for compensation because of guards referring to her by male pronouns.

Although Tafao previously served time in a New Zealand women’s prison, she herself requested a transfer to a men’s prison. She claimed she ‘found it easier to get along with men’.

Born in Samoa. Tafao lived as a woman from the age of 13 or 24 and her New Zealand passport lists her as female.

She served a term of imprisonment in Queensland in 2015 for break and enter offences. Following her release from prison, the Federal Government deported her to New Zealand.

Tafao told QCATA that during her imprisonment, guards referred to her by male pronouns. She claimed the discrimination caused her to feel depressed and suicidal.

Tribunal orders apology

The tribunal refused her request for $50,000 damages because it said neither the government nor Serco showed ‘bad faith’. However, QCATA ordered the operator and prison director to apologise for the use of male pronouns saying it breached anti-discrimination laws.

Both the government and Serco filed appeals with the Court of Appeal to overturn the ruling. They labelled the ruling a ‘substantial injustice’.

The Queensland Government appeal states the decision will ‘negatively impact the safety and good order of prisons’.  It defends the right of prison operators ‘to determine the mode of address of a transgender prisoner’.

Further, they and Serco claim referring to Leilani Tafao as female would have disrupted the ‘good order of the prison’  and risked her safety.

The Court of Appeal is yet to set a date for a hearing.

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