Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

Transsexuals Treated Poorly in New York Prisons

by David M. Reutter

The Sylvia Rivera Law Project (SRLP) has issued a report on the treatment of transgender and intersex people in New York state men?s prisons. That report finds that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) prisoners experience assault, denial of urgently needed medical care, and placement in gender inappropriate facilities.

The report is based upon interviews with twelve current and former prisoners and ten advocates working outside of prisons. It found that as a group, transgender and gender non-conforming people are disproportionately poor, homeless, criminalized, and imprisoned.
?Discrimination against transgender people in housing, employment, healthcare, education, public benefits, and social services is pervasive, pushing transgender people to the margins of the formal economy,? states the report. As such LGBT youths and adults run away from hostile families and engage in illegal or criminalized activities to survive, placing them at a higher risk for arrest and entanglement in the criminal justice system.

Not only are they arrested for sex work, drug sales, and theft, but LGBT people are often arrested for other ?poverty-related activities including loitering, turnstile jumping, or sleeping outside.? This is enhanced, according to the report, by police profiling that targets LGBTs.

Once arrested, LGBTs are housed in prisons and jails according to their birth-assigned sex and/or genitalia rather than how they identify. They face a choice of harassment and abuse in general population or restricted movement and guard abuse in protective custody. Either way, any placement in correctional environs is ?dangerous and detrimental.? Every person interviewed by SRLP encountered during their imprisonment ?persistent physical, emotional, and sexual abuse that included verbal harassment, physical and sexual assault, humiliation, and rape.?

The interviewees said guards impose more physical abuse than prisoners. They also issue disciplinary reports for suspected ?homosexual activity? based upon the LGBTs sexual preference. Humiliations by guards not only include verbal, physical, and sexual abuse; they include ?consistent and humiliating strip searches? to ?decipher? their gender. The punishments imposed upon LGBTs are seen as exaggerated from that imposed upon other prisoners.

There is no accountability upon guards. Moreover, they allow other prisoners to abuse LGBTs. As one interviewee said, ?If you?re not fucking somebody, you?re gonna get fucked by everybody.? Their sexual identification forces them into prostitution for protection. Another interviewee said their situation places them on the lowest rung on the prison hierarchy, ?? you?re on the lowest rung on the totem pole of prison life. You have to pay somebody to protect you, but most people won?t be seen talking to you, or let you sit at their table, or touch their food.?

?Medical services are poor for the average inmate. They see gender-related services as cosmetic, not essential to transition and to a healthy life.? Yet, gender identity disorder is considered a disease that should be treated with psychotherapy, hormonal treatments, and surgery according to criteria promulgated by the America Psychiatric Association.
LGBT?s are also denied possession of gender-appropriate clothing, make-up, and other items associated with gender expressing by prison officials. ?You can have a bra, but you can?t have panties. You?re only allowed a sports bra, but no make up,? said an interviewee in a men?s prison.

The report makes four recommendations: 1) reduce criminalization and imprisonment of LGBTs in recognition of the extreme danger they face while imprisoned; 2) change prison policies to improve the safety and treatment of LGBTs; 3) improve and enhance grievance procedures to address assault, discrimination, and abuse when it occur; and 4) ensure access to adequate and nondiscriminatory medical and mental healthcare, vocational and educational programming, recreational activities, and gender-appropriate clothing. The report It?s war in here is available on PLN?s website.

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login