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Local group holds benefit concert to move transgender inmate to women's prison

Kanautica Jail
(From left to right) Gaby Taccir, visual designer at R65 labs and Chris Corsi, program assistant at UNC Student Wellness, write letters for Kanautica Zayre-Brown at the Queer Family Gathering dinner at a community building in Carrboro, Tuesday, March 19, 2019. Kanautica is a trans woman incarcerated at a men's prison and who has been in solitary confinement for 17 days. The letters are meant to help Kanautica maintain her mental health during her confinement until she can be moved into a women's facility.

“That’s her! That’s my baby,” said a smiling Dionne Brown as he answered his ringing phone while at a fundraiser for his wife, Kanautica Zayre-Brown, on Saturday night. “She said she was going to call.” 

A benefit show for Zayre-Brown, a transgender woman currently being held in a men’s correctional facility, was held June 1 at the downtown Raleigh music venue Slim’s. 

The event came soon after the North Carolina Department of Public Safety’s May 24 announcement that they plan to move Zayre-Brown to a women’s facility by Aug. 22. 

The fundraiser was organized by a group called The House of Kanautica, which has been advocating for her immediate transfer since February, group member Ash Williams said.

The House of Kanautica aimed to raise $800 at the concert. 

There were many performers at the event, including poets, DJs and musicians. 

It was important to the event organizers to have performers who were representative of their community, said Williams.

Asia Webb, who did a drag performance of “I Was Here” by Beyoncé and was a host of the event, said she hoped that people would show up, call Gov. Roy Cooper about Zayre-Brown’s case and donate money. 

“Being a trans person myself, and as someone who’s dealing with the legal system currently, it’s really scary,” Webb said. “The thought that having to deal with the fear of constantly being raped, murdered, brutalized, especially in a high-risk situation and not being able to be around fellow people to at least pull my spirits up somewhat, and having to be around men, all day, especially as a woman, I could only imagine. People need to realize that trans women are women, and if they don’t understand that then we’re here to show them.”

Asa, a musician who performed their own music from an upcoming mixtape, The Violent Femme, said that they hope people show solidarity.

“It’s time that we start doing more for trans folks,” said Asa. 

The event also had tables set up by the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, letter writing and tweet-the-governor stations, the work of local artists for sale and free emergency contraception from the Carolina Abortion Fund. 

The ACLU of North Carolina represents Kanautica Zayre-Brown and her case, said Molly Rivera, communications associate for the ACLU of North Carolina.

The group wants Zayre-Brown to be transferred immediately because of the way she has been treated in the men’s facilities, Williams said, and because they believe she should be in a women’s facility.

Zayre-Brown is still being given male undergarments, Brown said. 

“We know that for trans folks inside cages, one of the ways that they harm them or hurt them is through dress codes,” said Williams. “She experiences having to wear really baggy clothes that don’t really fit her because of what they think her body should look like.”

DPS Communications Officer John Bull said he would not comment on the undergarments worn by individuals in the prison. DPS said it is waiting on transferring Zayre-Brown to prepare for the move.

"An August move will allow DPS to continue researching and implementing best practices from the states that have transferred transgender women to female facilities," DPS General Counsel Jane Ammons Gilchrist said in a letter to Sneha Shah, ACLU of North Carolina staff attorney. "Implementation of best practices will help to ensure the safety and preparedness of correctional officers and offenders."

The letter also said DPS will provide staff training prior to Zayre-Brown's transfer.

Zayre-Brown was moved from the Harnett Correctional Institution to the Warren Correctional Institution in March, both men’s facilities in North Carolina. 

The facility to which the organization wants Zayre-Brown to be transferred is the North Carolina Correctional Institution for Women in Raleigh, Williams said.

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Brown said that he wants Zayre-Brown transferred before the date set by DPS, and that she claimed to have received information from officials inside the facility saying she will be transferred sooner than that date.

“They insist upon it, but that’s word of mouth right now,” said Brown. “That’s not concrete.”

The organization does fear that Zayre-Brown will face issues once she is transferred to the women’s facility.

“A question for us as organizers is will she be put in segregation?” Williams said. “Will she be in solitary confinement? That is a concern that we have; that is something we don’t want to see.”

Zayre-Brown was previously placed in restrictive housing.

"Please know that Kanautica Zayre-Brown was placed in restrictive housing for administrative purposes (which is not solitary confinement) pending the results of an investigation in March for violating the rules," Bull said.

Another goal of The House of Kaunatica is to get Zayre-Brown’s name changed in the prison system, Williams said.

“Her name is legally changed, and it still says her deadname (the name she was given at birth),” said Williams. “This is just another example of the way the prison is marginalizing her, and a way that prisons marginalize trans folks.”

DPS also said they would provide the ACLU with updates every two weeks until Zayre-Brown is transferred, said Irena Como, a senior staff attorney for the ACLU of North Carolina. 

In the meantime, the ACLU of North Carolina plans to watch the case closely and advocate as much as they can to get Zayre-Brown transferred as soon as possible, Rivera said. Rivera also said the ACLU plans to hold the DPS accountable at a minimum to the final transfer deadline. 

The ACLU stays in touch with Zayre-Brown, talking with her every couple of days, Rivera said. 

Williams also said that they speak to Zayre-Brown often. 

“She calls almost every other day,” Williams said. “If you gave her your number she calls you, she’s that kind of person. Talking to her every day keeps us connected to her."

Williams said that they hope this campaign is just the first of many to get transgender women transferred to women’s facilities and help incarcerated transgender people get things they need, and that Kanautica hopes this, as well.

“I think that she wouldn’t want us to stop after she got transferred, and I imagine that her transfer will make a way for other folks,” said Williams.