A bill before Mississippi lawmakers could allow incarcerated people to sue jails and prisons if they encounter inmates of the opposite sex, such as those who are transgender, in bathrooms or locker rooms.

State lawmakers presented the proposal to a House committee on Thursday. It would require bathrooms, locker rooms and inmate bedrooms in correctional facilities to be designated for the exclusive use of members of one sex. If prisoners encounter someone of the opposite sex in any of those areas, they could sue the prison under the proposal.

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Correctional facilities in the state are already segregated by sex, and Republican Rep. Gene Newman, the bill’s sponsor, could not point to any example of a Mississippi facility forcing a prisoner to share spaces with someone of the opposite sex. Instead, Newman said, he introduced the bill in response to people in other parts of the country receiving housing that matches their gender identity.

“It gives the inmate a course of action,” Newman said. “Just seeing the things that are happening around the country, I mean there are women’s sports. There are men who pretend to be women just to win. This will happen in prison. Men should not be with women. Period.”

The legislation defines “sex” as “the biological sex of a person, whether male or female, observed or clinically verified at birth.” It does not contain language about intersex people, those who are born with physical traits that do not fit the typical definitions of male or female categories.

Newman said the bill was drafted in part by the Alliance Defending Freedom, which describes itself as a Christian law firm.

Gene Newman

Mississippi Rep. Gene Newman, R-Pearl, speaks Feb. 15, 2024, at the Mississippi Capitol in Jackson, Mississippi. State lawmakers introduced a bill sponsored by Newman out of a House committee on Thursday, Feb. 22, that would require that inmate bathrooms, locker rooms and bedrooms in correctional facilities be designated for the exclusive use of members of one sex. If inmates encounter someone of the opposite sex in any of those areas, they could sue the prison. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solís)

A pamphlet distributed to lawmakers that Newman said was prepared by the firm cites a California law that requires the state to house transgender inmates in prisons based on their gender identity, but only if the state has “no management concerns.” or security”.

Transgender inmates are typically housed based on the sex assigned at birth. Advocates have said the practice can be dangerous for transgender women housed in men’s facilities.

A report on California law issued by the state’s Office of Inspector General found that 382 people had requested transfers based on their gender identity as of December 2022.

The state held hearings for 55 of 382 requests, approving 36 and denying 19. None of the hearings during that period were for incarcerated people who requested a transfer from a women’s prison to a men’s prison, according to the report.

Mississippi’s law was introduced amid a broad effort in conservative states to restrict transgender athletes, gender-affirming care and drag shows. This year, Republican lawmakers are considering a new round of bills that would restrict health care for transgender youth and, in some cases, adults. This marks a return to the issue a year after a wave of high-profile bills became law and sparked lawsuits.

In 2023, Newman sponsored Mississippi law banning gender-affirming hormones or surgery in the state for anyone under the age of 18.

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Newman’s latest bill awaits consideration by the full House.

By Sam