On March 15, 2018, Lambda Legal, an organization that advocates for LGBT rights, announced the settlement of a lawsuit brought by a male-to-female transgender Texas prisoner who was beaten and raped while serving 14 years in all-male facilities.
After Passion Star, 34, told Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) staff she was being assaulted and raped by another prisoner, that prisoner slashed her face with a razor eight times. During the assault, the prisoner called Star a “snitching faggot.” With the assistance of Lambda Legal, she filed suit against the TDCJ in 2014. She was not moved to a safe housing unit until the following year, then was released on parole in June 2017.
According to court documents, Star repeatedly reported that she was beaten and sexually abused by other prisoners. TDCJ staff told her to “fight” or “stop acting gay” in response to the dozens of grievances, complaints and requests to be placed in safe housing that Star filed.
“Passion experienced brutal violence, degradation, and discrimination in prison. She is a transgendered woman who was forced to live in terror in a men’s prison and the officials charged with her care refused to take steps to keep her safe,” said Demoya Gordon, an attorney with Lambda Legal’s Transgender Rights Project. “We are pleased with the resolution reached with prison officials. We are hopeful that this sends a strong message to prison officials: Sexual assault and violence against LGBT people who are incarcerated will not be swept under the rug.”
The settlement included an undisclosed monetary payment, changes in TDCJ policies regarding LGBT prisoners and training of TDCJ staff aimed at reducing the likelihood of future sexual assaults of LGBT prisoners. [See: PLN, June 2018, p.54].
“TDCJ did modify policy to provide further clarity that our practices and policies are officially in compliance with the Prison Rape Elimination Act,” said TDCJ spokesman Jeremy Desel. “They are changes that were already underway.”
“The first one is improvement in the intake process to help ensure that vulnerable people like LGBT people are identified and steps can be taken early in the process to protect them,” Gordon added. “The new policies also, hopefully, will make it such that TDCJ does a better job of getting vulnerable people into safekeeping where they are separated from people who may seek to abuse them.”
Although transgender prisoners in Texas are housed according to their birth gender, increased access to hormone therapy has been available to them since 2015. As of September 2017, there were 573 self-identified transgender TDCJ prisoners.
“What we’ve been able to achieve in this case, and that Passion has been able to achieve, by fighting back and speaking out ... is really significant,” Gordon remarked. “It’s a civil rights issue. It’s an LGBT rights issue. It’s a human rights issue.”
“For years, I was raped and beaten in prison and when I asked for help I was ignored,” Star stated. “I was hurt, scared and thrown in solitary in hopes that I would be forgotten, but today I can be proud that I never gave up.”
Sources: www.dallasnews.com, www.texastribune.org, www.lambdalegal.org
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