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News > World

Transgender Woman Sues Over Assault in All-Male US Prison

  • An inmate is seen standing in a prison cell in this file photo.

    An inmate is seen standing in a prison cell in this file photo. | Photo: Reuters

Published 16 November 2017
Opinion

The transgender woman claims she has been routinely groped by guards during strip searches and is forced to shower in the presence of male inmates.

A transgender woman being held in an all-male Massachusetts prison has filed a federal lawsuit against the state demanding transfer to a women's facility imn the face of routine harassment by jail staff and inmates, her lawyers say.

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The 53-year-old woman, who has received hormone therapy for over 40 years and has not been named in the Boston federal court documents, is serving a three- to four-year sentence for a non-violent drug offense.

She contends that the state's Department of Corrections is violating her rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act by refusing to house her with women and subjecting her to strip searches by male guards.

The lawsuit, which advocates believe is the first of its kind filed in Massachusetts, requests that she be transferred to a women's prison, that prison officials be ordered to address her as a woman, and that only female guards be allowed to strip-search her.

Diagnosed with gender dysphoria decades ago, the inmate claims she has been routinely groped by male guards during strip searches and is forced to shower in the presence of male inmates. Gender dysphoria is a medical condition where someone suffers distress because their gender identity does not match their body.

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If the lawsuit is successful, she would become the first transgender woman to be placed in the state's prison system alongside other women.

"Anyone could imagine how horrific it would be to be a woman in a men's facility," said Jennifer Levi, director of the transgender rights project at GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, the Massachusetts group representing the woman. 

"This policy of placing transgender women in men's facilities is totally out of step with Massachusetts policies."

Levi estimated that about 50 to 60 transgender women are currently held as inmates in Massachusetts prisons.

Massachusetts last year passed a law banning discrimination against transgender people in public restrooms and other public buildings, such as restaurants and museums.

However, advocates say other states have done far more to extend the right to live free of discrimination to transgender prisoners.

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