Lambda Legal filed a federal lawsuit today (Thursday, Oct. 23), on behalf of Passion Star, a trans woman being housed with male prisoners in the Texas prison system. The lawsuit claims that officials with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice have “displayed deliberate indifference to threats of sexual assault and violence against Ms. Star in TDCJ’s male facilities,” according to a statement released this afternoon.
“Ms. Star has been pleading for protection from rapes, beatings, knifings and threats to her life since she entered TDCJ custody as a teenager, but instead of separating her from aggressors, Texas prison officials have forced her to remain in the general population in male prisons, even though the risk that she would be seriously harmed was obvious,” said Lambda Legal staff attorney Jael Humphrey.
“It is absolutely appalling how TDCJ officials, following the clear lead of Gov. Rick Perry, callously ignore the desperate pleas of Ms. Star and other LGBT people in custody asking to be protected from sexual abuse,” Humphrey added.
Star, now 30, was still a teenager when she pled guilty to charges of aggravated kidnapping, charges that were based on allegations that Star’s boyfriend refused to return to the dealership a used car they were test driving, instead driving around for several hours with the car salesman as an unwilling passenger in the front seat. Star herself was in the back seat.
Star was sentenced to 20 years and transferred into TDCJ custody, and has been housed with male inmates since.
Humphrey said Star has been housed in six different male prison facilities, and that inmates at all six have identified her as feminine. She has been raped, forced to submit to unwanted sexual acts to avoid physical violence and threatened with sexual assault.
Attorneys say Star has filed numerous grievances, complaints and requests asking to be placed in safekeeping. But instead of taking measures to protect her, prison officials have instead told Star to “suck dick,” fight or “stop acting gay” if she wants to keep from being assaulted.
Lambda Legal alleges that on Nov. 19, 2013, Star asked TDCJ officials to protect her from a gang member who had told her that he “owned her.” But instead of protecting her, prison officials actually moved her closer to the person who was threatening her. The next morning, the gang member attacked Star, calling her a “snitching faggot” and slashing her face eight times with a razor.
Still, prison officials refused to move Star to protect her.
Humphrey noted that the Prison Rape Elimination Act, passed by a unanimous vote of Congress, requires states to take measures to eliminate sexual abuse of those in custody and provides guidelines on how to do that — including screening and separating particularly vulnerable people, like trans women, from the general population. Gov. Perry, however, has dismissed the PREA standards as “ill-conceived” and chose to pass up federal funds earmarked by the Department of Justice for the prevention of sexual abuse in detention facilities.
In a written statement released by Lambda Legal, Star said, “Somebody, somehow, needs to shed light on what is taking place here in Texas prisons. TDCJ officials get away with so much and disregard so many legitimate threats to people’s safety. It needs to stop somewhere. I fight for my life every day in here. Safety from rape and assault is not a privilege; it’s a right. I hope this lawsuit will help make sure this doesn’t happen to anyone else.”
The case has been filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas. Kenneth Upton and Paul Castillo are handling the case, joined by co-counsel Christina N. Goodrich, Christopher J. Kondon and Saman M. Rejali with K&L Gates LLP.