A once-prominent trans activist has officially been sent to a women’s prison following his conviction for the murder of a California family. Dana Rivers, 68, was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole earlier this week.
Born David Chester Warfield, Rivers’ crimes date back to November 11 of 2016, when police were called in response to the sound of gunshots being fired outside the Oakland home of lesbian couple Patricia Wright and Charlotte Reed. When authorities arrived, they found Rivers covered in blood and gasoline and fleeing from the house, which had been set ablaze.
The case had first been set for trial in 2019, but was repeatedly delayed in order to accommodate an investigation into Rivers’ mental health. The trial finally began on October 31, 2022, and Rivers was found guilty of the horrific crimes shortly after.
On June 15, Rivers was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole by Judge Scott Patton, who said that the case was “the most depraved crime” he had ever handled during his 33-year tenure.
The motivation for the murders is believed to have been the result of Reed’s departure from an “all-female” biker gang she had briefly been associated with. Rivers was a member of the gang and had been billed as their “enforcer.”
Examiners found that Reed had been stabbed and bludgeoned dozens of times in addition to having gunshot wounds. Wright had been shot twice, and her son, Benny Diambu-Wright, who had just graduated from Berkeley High School, had been shot in the heart. The bodies of Wright, Reed, and Diambu-Wright were found inside the burning wreckage. Rivers was immediately arrested and booked at the county jail.
According to police reports, Rivers “began to make spontaneous statements about [his] involvement in the murders” while being arrested. Rivers ultimately confessed to killing the two women and their son, but entered a plea of not guilty on charges of triple homicide in 2017.
While Rivers had reportedly been sent to San Quentin for processing, it is now official that he will be spending his life sentence in a women’s prison.
According to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation website, Rivers has been placed in the Central California Women’s Facility.
Rivers’ “gender identity-based” prison accommodation is the result of California’s SB132, also known as the Transgender Respect, Agency, and Dignity Act.
The law was signed into effect in January 2021 by Governor Gavin Newsom, and provides inmates housing based on their self-declared gender identity status.
Almost immediately after the law was implemented, California correctional centers were hit with hundreds of transfer requests from male inmates seeking movement into women’s facilities. According to Keep Prisons Single Sex USA, fully one-third of all male inmates who have requested such transfers were registered sex offenders.
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has previously confirmed to Reduxx that prison placements and transfer requests are based entirely off of a Gender Identity Questionnaire that can be issued at intake or requested later by inmates at any time during their incarceration.
The Questionnaire is form with a short series of questions in which inmates can declare their pronouns, honorifics, and gender identity.
Male inmates do not need to identify as transgender to request transfer or immediate accommodation in a women’s prison, and can simply identify as gender non-conforming or non-binary.
The move to place Rivers in a women’s prison based on his gender self-identification ironically appears to be interwoven with much of the activism he participated in prior to the slayings. Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, Rivers was known as a prominent trans activist who fought against “gender discrimination.”
Rivers gained notoriety in 1999 after he was fired from Center High School in Sacramento County for openly discussing his “sexuality and the importance of gender self-determination” in class with students.
Members of the Center Unified School Board who voted for Rivers’ dismissal argued that the decision had nothing to do with his gender identity. They instead cited concerns for the rights of parents, some of whom had complained to the school administrators that Rivers had been discussing inappropriate and sexual aspects of his ‘transition’ with students.
According to a 1999 article in the New York Times, one parent stated that Rivers had told the children he had been “sodomized as a youth and that he always felt he was a woman trapped in a man’s body and that he was going to be changing into a woman in the fall. He should have gotten permission from the parents to say this.”
Following the administration’s decision not to renew his employment, Rivers subsequently initiated a widely-publicized discrimination lawsuit that launched his career as a trans activist and resulted in a compensatory award of $150,000.
He appeared on the Today Show and Good Morning America, and had even been profiled in the New York Times, quickly elevating his profile as a respected LGBT advocate. He later was given a job teaching in a San Fransisco men’s jail, and was profiled by the Bay Area Reporter for “changing lives” in 2008.
Rivers also spoke as a guest lecturer at several universities, including Stanford and UC Davis, and served as a Board Member for the International Foundation for Gender Education (IFGE).
But prior to his mainstream trans activism, Rivers did participate in guerrilla fear-mongering tactics targeting women-only spaces and events, most notably against the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival (MWMF), colloquially known as MichFest.
In 1991, MichFest adopted a controversial “womyn-born-womyn” policy, and became harshly condemned by leading gay and lesbian organizations as a result. It was also targeted for harassment by trans-identified males who opposed the single-sex nature of the space. Shortly after, Camp Trans was founded by one of the men who had been ejected from the festival on the basis of the policy.
Camp Trans would establish itself outside of the Music Festival grounds for the purposes of harassing and threatening the women at the festival.
Rivers began to participate in Camp Trans during its second iteration, and at one point tried to strong-arm his way into the Music Festival. In an essay he wrote about experience, Rivers stated: “I stood there, ready to declare that I met the womyn-born-womyn criteria. In my heart I know this to be true. My mother and daughter and lesbian lover know that this is who I am.”
Rivers compared himself to lesbian women at the festival, stating that although they had been “born with vaginas … it was obvious to me and to them that I was more female than they were.”
Camp Trans continued its campaign against MichFest and its attendees, at one point distributing disturbing flyers which read “real women have cocks” and called the lesbian feminists “cunts.”
MichFest would meet its own end in 2015 following continued aggression from the wider LGBT community who labelled them “transphobic” for refusing to allow trans-identified males onto the grounds.
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