Transgender inmate charged as a man, sentenced as a woman

Michael Walsh
Harold Seymore at his sentencing on Friday, Feb. 6, 2015, with lawyer Stacy Marczak. (David Ovalle/Miami Herald/TNS via Getty Images)

A transgender woman was convicted Friday of sexually assaulting another woman nearly a decade ago, when she still identified as a man.

Harold Seymore, 31, was born intersex and, in 2005, was arrested for sexually assaulting a schoolteacher from Chicago who had been vacationing in South Beach, Florida, the Miami Herald reported. She was sentenced to 15 years in prison but will likely serve fewer than four more years because of time already served.

The case of Seymore, who transitioned from male to female between 2005 and last week's court appearance, called attention to the treatment of transgender individuals within the U.S. prison system.

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Teresa Mary Pooler reportedly referred to her as “Miss Seymore” throughout the four-day trial.

Despite occasional slip-ups, the defense attorneys stuck with female pronouns, and prosecutors used the neutral term “defendant,” according to the Florida newspaper.

Her trial had been repeatedly postponed because judges thought her mental state had deteriorated to the point where she could not help her attorneys put together a defense, according to the Miami Herald.

All Department of Corrections (DOC) inmates who are identified with a diagnosis of gender dysphoria are evaluated by the medical and mental health departments to determine their classification as either male or female.

While the DOC would not say whether Seymore would be housed with men or women, a spokesman told Yahoo News, “Once an inmate is classified as a male or female, they are assigned to the appropriate DOC facility.” The DOC said it does not segregate inmates based upon their designation of transgender or intersex.

The only time an inmate’s housing will change after that point is if the individual doesn’t feel safe.

Seymore was always housed in single-person cells away from the general population in Miami-Dade jails, according to the Miami Herald.

“Twenty-three hours a day in solitary,” Seymore told the Florida newspaper. “I got the yard by myself. I have to take showers by myself.”

Seymore, who has yet to adopt a female first name, will be transferred to a state prison, but it was not immediately clear where she will be housed.

Transgender advocates are concerned about the treatment that transgender women receive among male prison populations. File photo of a corridor of Prison with Cells. (Vetta/Getty Images)

Michael Silverman, executive director of the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund in New York, says the No. 1 concern for transgender women in prison is violence, including sexual violence.

“Most transgender women are housed according to their sex assigned at birth or whether they have had genital reassignment surgery as part of transition,” Silverman said in an interview with Yahoo News. “Most transgender individuals have not had that kind of surgery for a host of reasons. For many, it’s not something they need for gender dysphoria.”

According to a study of California prisons from 2009, transgender women in men’s prisons are 13 times more likely to be sexually abused than other inmates. In accordance with the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003, the DOC screens all transgender inmates for their risk of sexual victimization twice a year.

Sometimes to offset this risk, transgender inmates are placed in protective custody, which usually involves a degree of solitary confinement.

“This is nothing more than long-term isolation,” Silverman said, “which can be incredibly psychologically damaging and often results in trans prisoners having less access to many of the privileges that are afforded prisoners in the general population.”

Some jurisdictions have special facilities for transgender individuals to voluntarily separate themselves from the general prison population.