Transgender inmates sue Home Affairs minister, prisons director
Update 6.25pm - Home Affairs ministry reaction
Seven inmates are taking the Home Affairs Minister and the director of prisons to court after being denied the right to live as females and being confined to the male section of the correctional facility.
The court application states that the transgender women were made to suffer intense humiliation and degradation, without respect to their private life and without being protected from discrimination.
Aditus Foundation director Neil Falzon, who was one of the lawyers who signed the court application, stated that Malta could not wave the LGBTIQ flag here and overseas if it refused to protect the most vulnerable and marginalised people in the community.
Racquela Spiteri, Frances Scerri, Michelle Falzon, Natal Bonello, Kevin Grech, Reuben dos Santos Crisostomo and Hector Antonio Montenegro Martinez are suing for damages.
The plaintiffs noted that, upon entering jail between 1998 and 2016, they were forced to reside in the male section despite self-identifying as female and bearing many outward female characteristics, including hair and make-up, breast enlargements, and clothing style.
They had even taken medical steps to modify parts of their bodies, including through hormone therapy.
Despite all this, the director of prisons insisted upon allocating them to the male division, as per the gender listed on their identity cards.
Some time after entering prison, Ms Spiteri, Ms Scerri and Ms Falzon asked the public registry to modify their gender and first name on their identity card. Mr Bonello and Mr Grech have kick-started the process while the other two inmates cannot exercise this right since they are not Maltese citizens.
Despite the former three being recognised as females by law, they were still forced to remain in the male division. In December 2015, the director of prisons offered them the opportunity of being transferred to the female division.
However, this was tied to the condition that they would not be able to continue attending the educational courses and work the jobs they had. Realising that they would end up without protection income, unable to purchase their daily needs including oestrogen therapy, they decided to remain at the male division.
This had very serious repercussions. They were daily subjected to vulgar and sexual insults, abuse and mockery, both from other prisoners as well as from the prison warders.
The application describes how they would have to wait for all the men to finish before showering and could only do so when one of them would stand guard outside the door. As a result, they would often go days without washing.
The insults often evolved into sexual harassment and physical abuse. They were not allowed to bring in female clothing, including underwear or bras. This rule was also enforced when they had to leave prison for a court sitting.
As a result, they were often publically chided by magistrates due to their outward appearance.
The administration used their masculine names to address them and they would be subjected to strip searches by male warders each time they wished to leave the prison. This consequently led to them cutting down on trips.
They were also not allowed to participate in outdoor activities with the excuse that they would tease men and attract vulgar comments.
The application was signed by lawyer Cedric Mifsud and Dr Falzon.
'Gender identity law has fixed this' - Home Affairs Ministry
A Home Affairs ministry spokesperson said that, following the introduction of a gender identity law, inmates whose documents have been changed to reflect their gender identity were now being accommodated in prison divisions accordingly.