Texas Prisons to Update LGBT Policy After Lawsuit from Transgender Inmate Who Was Beaten, Raped

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This story was originally published by The Texas Tribune.

A lawsuit filed on behalf of a transgender woman who was beaten and raped in a Texas prison for men has ended with a monetary settlement and an updated LGBT policy at the state’s prison system, according to an LGBT rights legal group.

Lambda Legal announced Thursday that it had settled with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice in the case of Passion Star, a 34-year-old black transgender woman who sued the department claiming that prison officials didn’t protect her from sexual and physical abuse while incarcerated in male prisons. She said that when she complained, officials told her to stop “acting gay” to prevent future assaults.

“For years, I was raped and beaten in prison and when I asked for help I was ignored,” said Star, according to the group’s announcement. “I was hurt, scared and thrown in solitary [confinement] in hopes that I would be forgotten, but today I can be proud that I never gave up.”

In Texas, transgender prisoners are housed according to their sex at birth.

The department's spokesman, Jeremy Desel, said in a statement Thursday evening that the department was in full compliance with federal law and already had been working on policy changes for LGBT inmates before the settlement.

Lamba Legal’s transgender rights project attorney, Demoya Gordon, told the Dallas Morning News that the changes include improving the intake process to ensure LGBT inmates are identified early so steps can be taken to protect them. She said she hopes the changes also make it so prison officials better separate vulnerable inmates from people who may want to harm them while still giving them access to full services.

The group filed suit against the department in October 2014, claiming that prison officials refused to place Star in secure housing despite dozens of grievances, complaints, requests and attacks. Instead, they kept her in the general population, often near her assaulters, according to the announcement. In November 2013, after she had identified to officials an inmate who had threatened her, the prisoner called her a “snitching faggot” and slashed her face eight times with a razor.

Prison officials moved Star to safe housing in March 2015, after the lawsuit and an emergency motion were filed.

She was released on parole in June, after spending 14 years in prison for aggravated kidnapping, the group said. She had been in the car when her boyfriend at the time refused to return a used car they were test driving and kept driving for hours with the salesman in the passenger seat.

Lambda Legal said in their announcement that the settlement was agreeable to all parties, and also includes a monetary payment for Star and training of prison staff to better protect LGBT people in Texas prison facilities.

“We are hopeful that this sends a strong message to prison officials: Sexual assault and violence against LGBT people who are incarcerated will not be swept under the rug,” Gordon said.