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MA District Court Issues Groundbreaking Ruling to Protect Safety of Transgender Woman in Prison

This week, GLAD won a powerful, groundbreaking ruling for our client Jane Doe – a Puerto Rican transgender woman currently incarcerated at a men’s prison in Massachusetts.

The order, which requires the prison to take specific steps to protect Ms. Doe’s privacy and safety, will make a concrete, positive difference in her day-to-day life. It represents a huge leap forward in recognizing the brutality that transgender people face when improperly housed by the Department of Corrections. And it opens a legal door to providing a new form of relief for transgender people in prison under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The judge in our case saw and understood the daily, devastating denigration and sexual vulnerability she faces as a woman in a men’s prison – including being subjected to strip searches and groping by male officers, and being forced to shower in view of male prisoners who harass her, leaving her humiliated and fearful.

In a major step forward, the judge ordered substantial measures to stop this mistreatment while this case proceeds.

In fact, the judge’s order provides nearly all of the accommodations GLAD sought as preliminary relief while Ms. Doe is still housed at the facility – including ensuring that female correctional officers conduct any necessary strip searches, and that she be provided real privacy while showering. These changes will make a huge difference for Ms. Doe as we continue to fight for her to be appropriately transferred to a women’s facility. Learn more about our critical case here.

This week’s ruling marks a turning point in confronting the mistreatment and discrimination experienced by transgender people in our prison system. It recognizes that corrections departments have an obligation to treat incarcerated transgender individuals humanely. We are heartened that the judge understood the ways in which existing gender-based rules in prisons ignore the reality of transgender people’s lives. This ruling demonstrates that the “reasonable accommodation” provisions in disability anti-discrimination laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act are powerful tools to ensure safety, health, and equal opportunity for transgender people.

Increasing our legal system’s recognition of the humanity of transgender people is core to our mission. Thanks to our partners at Prisoners’ Legal Services and Goodwin Procter LLP for helping us take on this important fight.