Lambda Legal Files Emergency Papers Seeking Safekeeping for Transgender Woman in Texas Prison

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March 4, 2015
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Passion Star Self Portrait

Late last night Lambda Legal filed an emergency motion in federal court asking that the court compel the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) to place Passion Star, a transgender woman currently incarcerated in TDCJ’s male facilities, in safekeeping to protect her from further sexual assault and threats to her life.

Lambda Legal Staff Attorney Jael Humphrey said:

Passion’s situation has become critical. As violent threats toward our client have escalated, Texas prison officials have repeatedly denied her requests for Safekeeping and have transferred her into the general population on a unit known for having some of the highest rates of sexual assault in the nation—Clements. After begging TDCJ staff to protect her from men who told her she had to “have a man” or be raped, she was moved into a cell with a known gang member who threatened to kill her if she “snitched” on him and continued to resist sexual assault.

The papers filed yesterday argue that immediate steps must be taken to protect Passion, who in November was transferred to the Clements Unit where she was placed in the general population despite having been raped, physically assaulted and threatened with murder in the six previous TDCJ facilities where she was also housed in the general population. Not only did the daily threats continue and escalate, but she was warned by Clements Unit officials not to file any more requests for protection. However, her situation became so desperate she filed another complaint on February 19.

Humphrey added:

Passion’s life is in imminent danger, and twelve years after the passage of the Prison Rape Elimination Act, prison officials cannot pretend that they are unaware that LGBT individuals are vulnerable to sexual abuse when incarcerated. Rather than take Passion’s courageous requests for protection seriously, TDCJ staff have increased Passion’s vulnerability by denying her protection and threatening to confine her in isolation if she complains.

Now 31, as a teenager Ms. Star pled guilty to aggravated kidnapping based on allegations that her boyfriend refused to return the used car they were test driving to the dealership, instead driving for several hours with the car salesman in the passenger seat and Ms. Star in the back. Ms. Star was sentenced to 20 years in prison and transferred to the custody of TDCJ where she has been housed in male facilities.

In the seven male facilities where she has been housed, male inmates have identified Ms. Star as feminine. She has been raped, forced to submit to undesired sexual acts to escape violence, and threatened with sexual assault. She has filed dozens of grievances, complaints and requests to be placed in safekeeping, but instead of taking measures to protect her, TDCJ officials have told her to “suck dick,” “fight” or to stop “acting gay” if she does not want to be assaulted. In multiple prisons, Ms. Starr was placed in the general population in close proximity to inmates who she had identified as having threatened her, including one occasion in November 2013 where the identified inmate then attacked Ms. Star, calling her a “snitching faggot,” and slashed her face eight times with a razor.

In its original lawsuit, filed in October in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Lambda Legal cited the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), passed unanimously by Congress, that requires states to take measures to eliminate sexual abuse of people in custody and provides guidance on how to do so by, for example, screening and separating particularly vulnerable people, such as transgender women in male facilities, from likely aggressors. Gov. Perry, however, dismissed the PREA standards as “ill-conceived” and decided to pass up funding for Texas that the Department of Justice had earmarked for the prevention of sexual assault in detention facilities.

Read the press release.