Transgender rights activists demand fair treatment from NY State Sheriffs

transgender rights
Photo via Getty Images

A group of transgender rights activists have sent a letter to all New York State Sheriffs, urging them to adopt policies designed to improve the treatment of transgender people in custody. 

The New York Civil Liberties Union and the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund (TLDEF) sent the Monday morning missive to demand policies consistent with a recent landmark settlement between Upstate’s Broome County and Makyyla Holland, a transgender woman who experienced discrimination while detained. 

In that case, 23-year-old Holland claimed she was “beaten, subjected to illegal strip searches by male officers, housed with men and in isolation, denied access to prescribed medications, and persistently harassed and misgendered by corrections officers and other people in custody,” according to the lawsuit

Holland settled her lawsuit against Broome County, which resulted in the municipality establishing stringent guidelines for corrections officers dealing with transgender, gender nonconforming, nonbinary and intersex people in their custody.

“No one should ever have to go through what I went through at the Broome County Jail and I am so grateful that with this new policy hopefully no one else ever will; this is a great outcome,” Holland said in a statement. “This policy and policies like it can impact a lot of my community, and I will continue to fight to ensure that no other trans person in New York or anywhere has to endure what I did.”

In a different case, Jena Faith, a transgender military veteran, sued western-New York’s Steuben County after she was housed in a men’s facility, despite being recognized as a woman by the gender marker on her New York driver’s license and U.S. Social Security records. Faith claims that, while incarcerated with male inmates, she suffered sexual harassment and mistreatment, while being denied medication she had been prescribed by her physician.   

In the wake of that lawsuit, Steuben County adopted their own set of rigorous standards for law enforcement agents to follow when detaining transgender individuals. 

The groups’ letter to the various Sheriffs’ offices on Monday demands that counties across the Empire State adopt similar policies, and warns of potential legal tumult if they fail to do so.  

“Counties that fail to adopt policies clarifying the proper treatment of transgender, nonbinary, and intersexpeople potential legal liability under both state and federal law,” the groups say. 

Declining to enact primitive rules that result in transgender people being held in jail facilities inconsistent with their gender identity, or failure to provide access to gender-affirming health care, could result in “costly litigation and settlements arising from inadequate or nonexistent policies,” according to the TLDEF’s letter with the state’s Civil Liberties Union.

“Your county has the opportunity to ensure that no transgender person in its custody will experience the discrimination Ms. Holland and Ms. Faith faced while incarcerated,” the group continued. “We trust that you also recognize the importance of ensuring that your office does not engage unlawful discrimination against transgender individuals in custody, and the possible consequences of doing so, including costly litigation and settlements.”