A court in Zimbabwe awarded Ricky Eugene Nathanson, who identifies as a transgender woman, $400,000 after Nathanson sued police over an arrest for using the women’s bathroom.
Nathanson, now 53, was arrested by six police officers in riot gear in 2014 upon using a women’s bathroom in the city of Bulawayo. They correctly identified Nathanson as a biological male despite the use of women’s make-up.
Nathanson went on to sue the country’s Home Affairs ministry for $2.7 million but received $400,000, just over a seventh of what the lawsuit demanded.
In his ruling, Justice Francis Bere argued that the “quantification of damages is not meant to enrich the victim but to try and salvage some kind of dignity for the pain endured by the victim.”
He also declared that the plaintiff’s arrest violated Nathanson’s constitutional rights after authorities conducted a thorough and presumably humiliating examination of Nathanson’s body. Nathanson consequently sought damages of unlawful detention, malicious prosecution, and emotional distress.
“For three days, the plaintiff (Nathanson) in this case was not only deprived of her liberty but was subjected to forced anatomical examination in the most crude and naked manner by adventurous members of the police,” Bere ruled.
“As if that was not enough, she was then subjected to further invasive examination by two doctors at two different medical institutions all because of her transgender status, something that she did not invite upon herself,” she added.
Bere went on to criticize the police, who he accused of responding “hysterically” to complaints from customers in the bar where Nathanson used the women’s toilet.
“The legislature in its wisdom put a cap on the arrest of suspects and police officers are not expected to hysterically respond to calls for the arrest of suspects, but to satisfy themselves on reasonable grounds that the suspect has committed an offense before effecting the arrest,” he said.
“One cannot avoid concluding that the conduct of the police in arresting and detaining the plaintiff, was quite outrageous because clearly, they abused their discretion in arresting her,” he continued. “The prosecution of the plaintiff was both thoughtless and malicious.”
Despite long-time dictator Robert Mugabe’s loathing for homosexuality, having infamously described homosexuals as “worse than dogs and pigs,” Zimbabwe’s laws around changing gender are far more lenient.
As noted by Equaldex, which monitors LGBT rights around the world, Zimbabweans are allowed to change sex without undergoing surgery. However, male homosexuality remains illegal and homosexuals have no protection under the law.
According to the State Department’s Human Rights Report in 2017, there were “no known cases of prosecutions of consensual same-sex sexual activity during the year” in Zimbabwe, the year the nation’s military overthrew Mugabe, replacing him with current President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
The police have reportedly detained those suspected of being gay for up to 48 hours before releasing them, despite the nominal rights LGBT individuals have in the country on paper. LGBT advocacy groups claim the police have used extortion and threats against individuals on grounds of their sexuality.