Trans women sexually assault at knifepoint, denied hormones in male Maryland prison: Lawsuit

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    A lawsuit recently filed alleges that a transgender woman was housed with men in Baltimore, Maryland state-run jail for three months and sexually assaulted at knifepoint and denied her hormone treatment six months prior to her assault trial. 

    In her lawsuit, Chelsea Gilliam said her 14th amendment constitutional rights were violated, claiming that the Maryland correctional institutions discriminated against her due to her gender identity. Lawyers have called for compensatory and punitive damages after dependents caused Gilliam “pain and suffering, emotional, psychological, and physical distress and violation of dignity.”

    “When you become incarcerated, you not only lose your freedom, but you lose your dignity and your sense of self,” Gilliam said during a news conference Wednesday alongside her attorney. “I was treated like an alien … by inmates and staff — a local joke, day in and day out.”

    “I was treated like an alien … by inmates and staff — a local joke, day in and day out.”

    — Chelsea Gilliam

    Chelsea Gilliam

    Chelsea Gilliam, a transgender woman awaiting trial inside a Baltimore men’s jail facility, was sexually assaulted at knife point by another prisoner, subjected to frequent ridicule and denied hormone therapy. (Barbara Haddock Taylor/The Baltimore Sun via AP)

    Initially arrested on an assault charge in December 2021, Gilliam was repeatedly held without bail pending trial, according to online court records. She spent nearly six months incarcerated in a male prison before she pleaded guilty and was released on probation.

    Between Dec. 17, 2021, and May 13, 2022, Gilliam, a biological male, claimed that she was forced to live and shower with male inmates during her first three months at the Baltimore City Correctional Center (BCCC). Gilliam said she was sexually assaulted and denied her hormone treatments.

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    “I would say I was treated like an animal, but it was worse than that. People love and respect their animals, Gilliam told WBAL. “I was treated like an alien from the moment I entered Baltimore City Corrections, by inmates and staff.”

    “I would say I was treated like an animal, but it was worse than that. People love and respect their animals.”

    — Chelsea Gilliam

    According to the lawsuit, Gilliam was diagnosed with and began treatment for gender dysphoria in 2003. Since her diagnosis, Gilliam received hormonal treatment for the past 18 years. She legally changed her name to Chelsea in 2009 and has identified as a woman since she was 17 years old. 

    During her time at BCCC, Gilliam alleges that she was denied hormone treatment, which had immediate physical and mental effects, according to the lawsuit.

    According to the lawsuit, Gilliam was housed with men at the correctional center and consistently misgendered by staff. She was forced to live and shower with male inmates, “despite the known risk of sexual assault from male inmates and in contravention of” the corrections department’s policy.

    Though transgender prisoners are supposed to have access to separate showers, Gilliam was forced to undress in public. She started avoiding the showers after a male prisoner sexually propositioned her; he later threatened her life and sexually assaulted her at knifepoint, the complaint says.

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    Eventually, staff promised Gilliam accommodation including private showering and recreational time however, the promise was in name only and staff “refused to honor those accommodations.” 

    In her experience, Gilliam said, asking to be transferred into a women’s facility was futile. Guards would simply respond: “You are a man, and you are in jail,” she wrote in the complaint.

    All this occurred before she had even been convicted of a crime, her attorney Eve Hill said.

    Chelsea Gilliam

    Chelsea Gilliam, left, and her attorney Eve Hill, right, of Brown, Goldstein & Levy LLP, speak at a news conference Wednesday, April 19, 2023, in Baltimore, Maryland. (Barbara Haddock Taylor/The Baltimore Sun via AP)

    Gilliam was then transferred to the Maryland Reception, Diagnostic and Classification Center for three months where she claimed she was kept in solitary confinement because of her gender identity and shackled with a three-piece shackle any time she left he solitary confinement cell despite “having no write-ups or disciplinary infractions.”

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    The lawsuit alleges that Gilliam was rarely let out of her solitary confinement cell. Throughout the week, Gilliam was let out of the cell one hour per day on weekdays and not let out at all on weekends.

    “It’s like they wanted me to pay for being trans. That’s what it felt like,” she said.

    “It’s like they wanted me to pay for being trans. That’s what it felt like.”

    — Chelsea Gilliam

    The lawsuit alleges that the two correctional facilities that Gilliam was held in had clear standards to govern the treatment of transgendered inmates. The lawsuit cites the Defendant Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (DPSCS) stating that they are required to allow transgendered inmates to shower separately, continue hormonal treatment, and be assigned a facility based on a case-by-case basis.

    The lawsuit names Carolyn Scruggs, secretary of the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, as a defendant in addition to other department employees, including the wardens of both facilities.

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    Gilliam’s case presents the latest example of transgender inmates suffering the consequences of a system that refuses to respect their rights, her attorney Eve Hill said at the news conference.

    Across the country, transgender inmates are often incarcerated in facilities based on their sex assigned at birth, not their gender identity. Advocates say this is dangerous, particularly for transgender women held in custody with men.

    The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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