Texas will clarify its policies regarding the treatment of LGBTQ inmates following a settlement with a former prisoner, a transgender woman who reports she was abused during her time behind bars.
Passion Star, 34, who was housed in men’s prisons, filed a civil rights complaint in 2014. She said she was beaten and raped by fellow inmates, and when she informed prison staff they told her to “fight” or “stop acting gay” if she wanted the abuse to end.
She also said she asked to be housed separately for a decade before she was placed in safekeeping.
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Inmates are housed based on their sex at birth in Texas, which differs from federal prisons, where individuals are able to petition to be moved based on their gender identity. The Trump administration is expected to rollback those Obama-era protections.
A spokesperson for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice stressed to the Dallas News that it was and is in full compliance with federal law, and any changes to LGBTQ inmate policies were already in the works before the settlement.
“TDCJ did modify policy to provide further clarity that our practices and policy are officially in compliance with the Prison Rape Elimination Act [PREA],” spokesman Jeremy Desel said. “They are changes that were already underway.”
The new policies will help ensure vulnerable people, like members of the LGBTQ community, are identified during the intake process so they can be protected from abuse, including placing them in safekeeping if needed.
LGBTQ people are more likely to face abuse compared to their straight, cisgender counterparts, studies show.
The state reached a settlement with Starr that Lambda Legal, who represented her in court, characterized as “agreeable to all parties.”
“For years, I was raped and beaten in prison and when I asked for help I was ignored. I was hurt, scared, and thrown in solitary in hopes that I would be forgotten, but today I can be proud that I never gave up. No one should be terrorized in prison and have to experience a nightmare like that,” Starr said.
“Passion experienced brutal violence, degradation, and discrimination in prison. She is a transgender woman who was forced to live in terror in a men’s prison and the officials charged with her care refused to take adequate steps to keep her safe,” said Demoya Gordon, Lambda Legal Transgender Rights Project Attorney. “We are pleased with the resolution reached with prison officials. 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.”
According to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, as of September of last year, there were 573 inmates who identify as transgender in the state’s prisons, an eightfold increase from three years prior, when it began asking the question.
Star was charged with aggravated kidnapping at 18, after she and her then-boyfriend stole a car with the salesman still inside, letting him out after about 40 miles. Both she and her then-boyfriend accepted 20-year plea deals.
Gordon said Starr will use the undisclosed sum “to launch this phase of her life.”
Texas will have two years to retrain staff on the its new LGBTQ inmate policies.