Advocates renew push to protect incarcerated trans people in New York

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Advocates renew push to protect incarcerated trans people in New York

Advocacy for Transgender Rights in New York State Jails and Prisons

In a renewed effort to safeguard the rights of transgender individuals in New York State’s jails and prisons, advocacy groups are intensifying their campaign to ensure protection against discrimination based on gender identity and expression. The New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) and the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund (TLDEF), on December 7, issued a second appeal to sheriffs across the state, urging the adoption of robust, written policies. These policies aim to prevent unlawful discrimination against transgender detainees and promote their safety. The proposed guidelines are expected to mirror those already in place in Broome and Steuben Counties, established following two distinct legal cases defending the rights of transgender women who suffered discrimination while incarcerated.

Continued Efforts Post Initial Communication

This latest communication follows an initial letter dated October 23, which had a similar request. Post the first letter, the NYCLU discovered that jails in four additional counties—Cayuga, Ontario, Warren, and Yates—had implemented policies aligning with those of Broome and Steuben Counties.

Advocacy and Awareness Building by NYCLU

Bobby Hodgson, the NYCLU’s lead for LGBTQ rights litigation, remarked that the second letter is a continuation of the momentum built earlier, aiming to spread awareness and knowledge of available resources across the state. He noted that Erie County, encompassing Buffalo, has also adopted a comparable policy since the letter’s issuance.

Case Study : Broome County Jail Settlement

A notable case involved the Broome County Jail in Binghamton, which, as part of a $160,000 settlement following a 2021 lawsuit by the NYCLU on behalf of Makyyla Holland, a transgender woman, agreed to establish a written anti-discrimination policy for transgender detainees. Holland recounted experiencing discrimination based on her transgender status, sex, and disability, which included being housed with men, isolation, physical abuse, illegal strip searches, and denial of essential medications.

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Makyyla Holland’s Experience and Settlement Outcome

In a shared video, Holland expressed her distress, stating, “When they found out I was trans I instantly was a target. I felt the jail was ill-equipped for a trans woman, particularly a trans woman of color… Denial of my hormone therapy and depression medication made me feel like my life was being taken away; I felt there was no reason to live.”

Under the settlement, the Broome County jail committed to several policy changes, such as housing individuals according to their gender identity, respecting detainees’ gender identity (including pronoun use and names), providing gender-appropriate clothing and toiletries, and ensuring medical care free from discrimination based on sex, gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation.

Similar Reforms in Steuben County

In Steuben County, similar policy amendments were made following a lawsuit by Jena Faith, a transgender woman who was placed in male facilities and denied hormone treatment.

The Prevalence of Discrimination in Custody

Hodgson highlighted the commonality of discrimination against transgender individuals in custody in New York, noting, “Transgender folks are often not placed in gender-appropriate housing, even when requesting it for safety reasons.” He added that transgender women, particularly those of color, frequently endure strip searches by guards of a different gender, which is highly invasive and poses safety risks.

Importance of Clear, Non-Discriminatory Policies

“A sound policy on paper is a crucial initial step,” Hodgson stated, “since many incidents of discrimination and mistreatment arise from the absence of a clear policy and lack of education on non-discriminatory treatment.”

Survey Results on Discrimination in New York State Prisons

A 2022 survey by Takeroot Justice and the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, involving 44 incarcerated individuals, revealed widespread discrimination against transgender and gender non-conforming people in New York State prisons.

New York State Sheriff’s Association’s Response

Thomas Mitchell, counsel for the New York State Sheriff’s Association, in an email to Gay City News, shared that they have circulated the Broome and Steuben County policies among all sheriffs and discussed the issue in regular meetings. Mitchell emphasized the sheriffs’ commitment to preventing unlawful discrimination and encouraged them to review these policies to ensure the protection of all individuals in their custody.

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Proposed Gender Identity Respect, Dignity and Safety Act

The proposed Gender Identity Respect, Dignity and Safety Act in the New York State Legislature, backed by the NYCLU and led by State Senator Julia Salazar and Assemblymember Nily Rozic, seeks to mandate housing in prisons and jails according to gender identity and to prohibit discrimination. Hodgson views statewide legislation as essential to uniformly protect transgender, gender-non conforming, non-binary, and intersex individuals in custody, noting that it would “further reduce harm across the state for people outside counties with such policies.”

The Need for Specific Legislation

He remarked that while broad protections against discrimination based on gender identity exist under state and federal laws, the proposed legislation is crucial to eliminate ambiguity and provide specific, detailed protections for those in prisons, jails, and lockups.

FAQs

Q : What is the purpose of the proposed Gender Identity Respect, Dignity and Safety Act ? A: The Act aims to mandate housing in prisons and jails according to gender identity and to prohibit discrimination, ensuring uniform protection for transgender and gender-non conforming individuals in custody.

Q : How widespread is the issue of discrimination against transgender individuals in New York State’s custody facilities ? A: Discrimination is a common issue in these facilities, with a 2022 survey revealing extensive discrimination against transgender and gender non-conforming individuals.

Q : What changes were made in Broome County Jail following the settlement with Makyyla Holland ? A: The jail committed to several policy changes, including housing individuals according to their gender identity and providing appropriate medical care without discrimination.

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