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Civil Rights

Lawsuit: Transgender Maryland Inmate Thrown Into Solitary After Reporting Sexual Assault

— April 21, 2023

The lawsuit alleges that the transgender inmate was forced to undress in front of, and shower with, other biological males.

A transgender woman awaiting trial inside a Baltimore jail has filed a lawsuit against the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, alleging that she was placed inside solitary confinement after reporting a violent sexual assault.

According to The Associated Press, the plaintiff was kept in segregation for months.

All the while, corrections officers and staff ridiculed her, refusing to disburse prescribed hormones and medications.

In her complaint, plaintiff Chelsea Gilliam says that she had been receiving hormones for 15 years. However, after being incarcerated, staff forced her to discontinue her treatment.

“When you become incarcerated, you not only lose your freedom but you lose your dignity and your sense of self,” Gilliam said during a press conference announcing the lawsuit. “I was treated like an alien […] by inmates and staff—a local joke, day in and ay out.”

The Associated Press notes that many jails, in Baltimore and across the country, regularly assign inmates to prisons corresponding with their biological sex rather than their gender identity.

Some transgender advocates claim that this practice endangers transgender women, who are more likely to be sexually assaulted when housed with men.

A spokesperson for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services said that the agency does not comment on pending litigation.

“We can say that the Department takes this very seriously—and treats with urgency-the protection of every single incarcerated person’s dignity and safety,” spokesman Mark Varnarelli said in a statement.

Black and white picture of a prison from outside the fence; image by Brad.K, via Flickr, CC BY 2.0, no changes.
Black and white picture of a prison from outside the fence; image by Brad.K, via Flickr, CC BY 2.0, no changes.

Varnarelli said that he, and other agency officials, have already met with advocates from the transgender community.

The department, Varnarelli said, “is committed to updating its policies as necessary.”

Gilliam, notes The Associated Press, was arrested for assault in December 2021.

However, unlike many other inmates, Gilliam was denied the opportunity to bail, and spent about six months behind bars before pleading guilty and being released on probation.

Gilliam, states the lawsuit, occasionally asked guards whether she could be transferred to a women’s facility.

“You are a man, and you are in jail,” officials reportedly responded.

However, The Associated Press reports that Maryland state policy dictates that assignments should be predicated, at least in part, on an “inmate’s own views with respect to personal safety.”

Nevertheless, the state correctional agency does not house biological men with biological women unless they have completed a “surgical gender reassignment” procedure, “regardless of how long they may have lived their life as a member of the opposite gender.”

Gilliam and her attorneys say that Maryland not only refused to consider her housing requests, but that corrections officials forced her to undress and shower with other men.

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


Lawsuit: Trans woman sexually abused, harassed in men’s jail

Trans woman put in solitary jail cell after she was sexually assaulted, lawsuit says 

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