Makyyla Holland, a transgender woman, experienced violence and discrimination in the Broome County Jail. A settlement reached in her lawsuit could aid in passing legislation protecting the rights of incarcerated transgender individuals across New York state.

In 2021, Holland was held for six weeks in the Broome County Jail, during which she alleged that she was housed with men, denied access to her medication and beaten when she refused to take off her clothes in front of male guards. In response, she filed a lawsuit against Broome County, former Broome County Sheriff David Harder and multiple other individuals allegedly involved in her mistreatment. Along with a case filed by Jena Faith — a transgender woman in Steuben County, New York who faced similar circumstances when she was placed in a men’s jail — Holland’s case could support the passage of state legislation to protect the rights of incarcerated transgender, gender nonconforming, nonbinary and intersex (TGNCNBI) individuals.

According to a press release by the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), Holland was asked to strip in front of male officers upon entering the jail and was assaulted when she refused.This strip search was later ruled illegal. Additionally, jail officials allegedly did not provide her with the hygiene products and clothing typically given to incarcerated women and housed her in a men’s facility and placed her in isolated confinement. She was also denied her antidepressants and hormone treatment, which caused severe withdrawal symptoms, according to the complaint.

Transgender people face high rates of violence, even outside of the prison system. According to a survey by the Bureau of Justice Statistics that spanned four years, the rate of violent victimization was 2.5 times higher for people who identified as transgender compared to those who identified as cisgender in individuals aged 16 and over. A 2021 survey of transgender and nonbinary people incarcerated in New York state indicated that 80 percent of respondents experienced violence from a corrections officer. This survey also showed that all respondents who identified as women were held in men’s prisons and 63 percent of respondents said they were denied medical care specific to their gender identity.

“I was humiliated by Broome County Jail staff because I am a transgender woman,” Holland said in an NYCLU press release. “I was harassed, mocked, misgendered and worse — jail staff strip-searched me, beat me up, placed me in the male section of the jail and withheld my hormones for a period of time, forcing me to go into agonizing withdrawal.”

In her 2022 lawsuit, Holland was represented by the NYCLU, the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund (TLDEF) and pro bono counsel Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP. As part of the settlement, Holland was awarded $160,000 and included a new Broome County policy, which aims to provide incarcerated lesbian, gay, biseual, trangender and intersex (LGBTI) individuals with safer housing conditions, appropriate classification and access to relevant medical care.

The NYCLU is also currently attempting to pass the Gender Identity Respect, Dignity, and Safety Act through the State Legislature. The legislation would institute protections for TGNCNBI people in New York state, including the usage of their preferred name and pronouns, housing consistent with their gender identity, access to clothing and toiletry items consistent with a person’s gender identity and a 30-day limit on involuntary protective custody.

Aidan Braun, the Q Center coordinator, emphasized the importance of legislation that protects transgender individuals.

“There’s an opportunity here for New York state to show that we’re going to support these individuals,” Braun said. “It’s disheartening how many [transgender] people of color end up in jail for simply existing. I hope New York continues to move in the right direction to protect [transgender] individuals, especially during this time when so many [transgender] people’s lives are being treated like political pawns. I know that [New York] Gov. Hochul declared [Transgender] Awareness month in November, but she should also put her money where her mouth is, in a sense, with more material support like legislation.”