Transgender, gender nonconforming, non-binary, and intersex (TGNCNBI) New Yorkers often must survive under the weight of multiple socioeconomic burdens. They disproportionately face food, shelter, and employment insecurity. They face discrimination based on their race, gender, and immigration status. They are also notoriously over-policed and over-criminalized.
As a result, one in six people who identify as transgender report having been incarcerated at some point in their lifetime, and this figure jumps to nearly one in two for Black transgender women.
During processing and while in custody, people whose gender expression does not conform to their sex assigned at birth are frequently misgendered and referred to in demeaning ways by correctional officers. Some TGNCNBI people are placed in facilities that do not match their gender identity or that otherwise put their safety at risk.
Improper housing regularly leads to violence, and when TGNCNBI people are attacked, they are often put in solitary confinement or other protective custody for extended periods of time, sometimes against their own wishes.
STORIES OF ABUSE, SURVIVAL, AND FIGHTING BACK
Behind these broader, damaging trends are the stories of real New Yorkers. Here are just a few.
Makyyla Holland of Binghamton, New York: Over the six weeks she spent in custody, Makyyla Holland was misgendered, abused and denied medical care while in custody at the Broome County Jail. Corrections officers discriminated against her because she is a transgender woman. They beat her, placed her in the male section of the jail, subjected her to illegal strip searches, and denied access to her antidepressants and hormone treatments, causing withdrawal. Makyyla is suing the Broome County Jail and Sheriff's Office with counsel from the NYCLU and the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund (TLDEF).
“I was humiliated by Broome County jail staff because I am a transgender woman. I was harassed, mocked, misgendered and worse: jail staff strip-searched me, beat me up, placed me in the male section of the jail, and withheld my hormones for a period of time, forcing me to go into agonizing withdrawal...The abuses that police and jail staff across New York state commit against transgender New Yorkers must end.”
- Makyyla Holland
DeAnna LeTray of Watertown, New York, was arrested in September 2017 during a domestic dispute with her daughter’s boyfriend, who she says pointed a gun at her.
DeAnna, who is trans, says the Watertown police officers who arrested her mocked her gender expression and questioned her gender identity. Then, at the police station, LeTray says police ripped her hair off her head and, once she got to the jail, she was stripped naked and sexually assaulted.
In 2021, Legal Services of Central New York and the NYCLU filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of DeAnna against the Watertown Police Department and Jefferson County Sheriff’s office.
“The police were called for help. Instead, I was misgendered, assaulted, and dehumanized. I never want anyone to go through the abuse I experienced from people that were supposed to protect me.”
– DeAnna LeTray
Jena Faith, a military veteran, spent four weeks in Steuben County jail awaiting trial. She was initially housed in the jail’s women’s facility without incident but officials abruptly transferred her to the men’s facility. This happened despite the fact that she has been recognized in all aspects of her life as a woman for many years, including the gender marker on her New York driver’s license and U.S. Social Security records.
In the men’s facility, she suffered sexual harassment from other incarcerated people, mistreatment at the hands of guards, and denial of medication prescribed by her physician.
Jena sued Steuben County in 2019, and in 2020 she and the NYCLU secured a settlement that establishes one of the strongest jail or prison policies in the nation protecting the rights of TGNCNBI people in custody.
“No one should ever be subjected to the cruelty and harassment I endured. Everyone housed in detention facilities deserves to be treated with dignity and respect, including transgender people. I hope my case will help others, not only in Steuben County, but also across New York and beyond.”
– Jena Faith
NY MUST ACT
Thousands of New Yorkers will continue to suffer in jails and prisons across the state unless there is broad action from lawmakers. The Gender Identity Respect, Dignity, and Safety Act in the state legislature would increase safety for TGNCNBI people by requiring that prisons and jails presumptively house people consistent with their gender identities, with a list of reasons that cannot be used as the basis for a denial.
The bill would ensure that staff at facilities respect a person’s gender identity in all contexts, including name and pronoun use and during searches, and require access to clothing, toiletry items, and grooming standards consistent with a person’s gender identity. It would also place a thirty-day limit on involuntary protective custody.
Tell lawmakers to pass the Gender Identity Respect, Dignity, and Safety Act now: