NEW YORK — A county in western New York has agreed to change how it treats transgender inmates, as part of the settlement of a lawsuit filed on behalf of a trans woman who said she was discriminated against because of her gender identity.
On Wednesday, human rights groups announced that Steuben County committed to establishing one of the country’s strongest jail policies to protect the rights of transgender, gender nonconforming, nonbinary, and intersex people in custody.
The agreement stems from a 2019 lawsuit filed by the New York Civil Liberties Union, the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund, and the law firm BakerHostetlerin on behalf of Jena Faith.
Faith, a 43-year-old transgender female military veteran spent four weeks in the Steuben County Jail awaiting trial. She was originally housed among female inmates, but was transferred to the male facility without any warning.
Even though Faith lived as a woman for several years — and was legally recognized as female on her state ID and Social Security records — she was forced to live nearly a month among male inmates, where she said she was harassed from the very first day.
According to the ACLU, at least two men targeted her when she was there. She also said that some of the guards called her “mister” and “a man.” Faith claims she was also denied medication prescribed to her by her physician.
The lawsuit, filed nearly a year ago, on Aug. 22, argued that what happened to her is a “violation of numerous state laws designed to protect the rights, dignity, and humanity of trans people.”
“Across the state, transgender people are routinely and illegally held in facilities that are not consistent with their gender identity,” Bobby Hodgson, a NYCLU staff attorney, said in a statement.
“This agreement establishes a solid framework that officials across the state should look to as they adjust their own policies to comply with the law,” he added.
Under the settlement, the county agreed to change its jail policies regarding transgender inmates.
According to the agreement, the county will now house people consistent with their gender identity; respect a person’s self-identified gender identity using the correct name and pronoun; ensure access to clothing, toiletry items, and grooming standards consistent with a person’s gender identity; and also ensure access to medical care consistent with a person’s gender identity.
As part of the settlement, Faith will receive $60,000 as compensation.
“I feel so relieved that the county is acknowledging the harm it caused me and taking steps to ensure this does not happen to anyone else,” Faith said in a statement.
“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.”
According to a report released in 2018 by the National Center for Transgender Equality, transgender people are nearly 10 times more likely to be sexually assaulted than the general prison population.
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