The 52-year-old inmate, who is identified as Jane Doe in the filed complaint, says male inmates are routinely harassing her and she is living in fear of being attacked.
According to her attorneys, she has been living her true identity while undergoing hormone replacement therapy for nearly forty years, and has been diagnosed with gender dysphoria. She is currently serving a three-to-four-year sentence at the all-male MCI-Norfolk prison for a nonviolent drug offense since October 2016.
The lawsuit against the Massachusetts Department of Corrections was filed with the U.S. District Court in Boston on Wednesday. The filing states that even though she reported to prison as a woman, she was placed in a male facility and was told that she could not be moved unless she underwent gender affirmation surgery. She is looking to be transferred to a state women’s prison, MCI-Framingham.
The filing also says the inmate has been forced to live, sleep, shower, and use the bathroom with male inmates. She has been subjected to strip searches by male correctional officers while they refer to her and other transgender inmates as “wannabe women.” It also says prison staff once forced her to strip with her cell door open while male inmates were watching and making inappropriate comments about her body. The filing additionally claims that male inmates “crowd into the bathroom excitedly” when she showers while harassing her and trying to “physically force themselves on her.”
The lawsuit claims the department is discriminating against the prisoner because she is transgender, and that it violates her constitutional right to equal protection. The suit also accuses prison officials of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by refusing to move her to a female facility, which is a medically necessary part of her treatment plan for gender dysphoria.
“If successful, the lawsuit, filed Wednesday in US District Court in Boston, could make her the first transgender woman to be housed with other women prisoners in Massachusetts, “ Jennifer L. Levi, the director of the Transgender Rights Project at GLAD and one of the inmate’s lawyers told the Boston Globe.
Other states, such as California and Pennsylvania, have allowed transgender prisoners to live with inmates of the sex with which they identify.