September 1, 2019
After Winning a Landmark Case to be Housed According to Her Gender, Transgender Advocate Angelina Resto is Determined to Fight for Her Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated LGBT Family
Last fall, Angelina Resto succeeded in her effort to be transferred from a Massachusetts men’s prison facility, where she faced brutal daily harassment and threats to her safety, to the state’s women’s facility. She was the first transgender woman in Massachusetts to secure a transfer to be housed according to her gender, and the first in the country to secure such a transfer as the result of a court order. GLAD represented Angelina together with Prisoners Legal Services and Goodwin, in her landmark case, Doe v. Massachusetts Department of Correction.
Angelina has since completed her sentence, but her commitment to advocacy on behalf of transgender and LGB people who are incarcerated continues. She aims to share her story as widely as possible in order to keep others from experiencing what she went through. “I’m a transgender woman, and have been living as a woman since an early age. I came out as transgender at 11,” says Angelina, who is now 55. Despite this fact, she was housed at MCI Norfolk, a men’s prison facility. “I was discriminated against as a transgender woman [at MCI Norfolk]. I was taunted and sexually harassed by guards and abused by other inmates.” She was made to shower in front of male inmates and guards, and lived in daily fear of assault.
Angelina decided to fight for better treatment and to be transferred to the women’s facility after connecting with another inmate who supported and encouraged her. “I met a wonderful guy,” she says. “He is the one who pushed me to do what I did to get transferred. We were afraid I was going to be put in solitary confinement, and I am not a person who can deal with confinement. It is very hard to be locked up like that.” He suggested she reach out to Prisoners Legal Services (PLS).
Kate Piper, a paralegal at PLS, raised concerns about the treatment Angelina was experiencing. “She started writing letters, asking what was happening, saying that I was being mistreated, that I couldn’t even shower with any privacy. She told them that I am a woman,” and shouldn’t be in the men’s facility. Ultimately, Kate and Lizz Matos at PLS connected with GLAD’s Transgender Rights Project Director Jennifer Levi and Senior Attorney Ben Klein, and attorneys Anthony Downes, Louis Lobel, Ashley Drake and Tiffany Moore of Goodwin, to file suit on Angelina’s behalf.
Angelina also had other LGBT people in mind when she decided to act, adding, “These people were not doing what they were supposed to be doing for transgender women. If they were doing it to me, it was going to happen to other transgender women and other members of the LGBT family at MCI Norfolk. I kept fighting because I saw what they were doing was wrong.”
Beyond what it meant for her own life to win her case and be transferred to MCI Framingham, Angelina is incredibly proud of the impact her fight will have on others. “I have opened many doors for transgender women so they don’t suffer the abuse I have suffered,” she says. “No one from the LGBTQ community who is incarcerated should be treated like I was being treated. I want people to understand that we are human beings. We aren’t animals. We aren’t just a number. It’s bad enough you’ve taken away our freedom but don’t take away our dignity and our pride.”