I Believe in Me: Fighting for Trans Rights in Prison
This video released by Lambda Legal documents Donisha McShan’s successful fight to be treated as a woman while at The H Group, the Marion, Illinois, halfway house where she was receiving substance abuse counseling. Lambda Legal sent a demand letter to The H Group after Ms. McShan contacted Lambda Legal’s Help Desk
In the video, Lambda Legal Client Donisha McShan, said:
They took all of my makeup, my favorite clothes, jewelry, bangles, earrings, necklaces, they even took my shower cap because it was pink. But the worst thing they took was my right to be myself. To have an advocacy group not only say that Donisha is right, but to say we stand behind her, it made me feel like I’m finally being heard. It was like I have been living my life on mute, signing, screaming, and yelling and somebody finally pressed the mute button and someone heard me.
Donisha was paroled to The H Group, a halfway house in Marion, Illinois, in October 2013, to complete a criminal sentence and receive treatment for substance abuse. Donisha is regularly tested for drug use and has been drug free for over a year and a half. She is currently enrolled in school and has a job.
After relocating to The H Group, the facility assigned Donisha to share a room with four men in the male-only unit even though there is a women and co-ed unit. In spite of Donisha informing the staff that she identifies as a woman and lives her life as a woman, the staff at The H Group insisted on addressing her with male pronouns and told her that she could not bring feminine items into the facility. The staff searched her living area (a shared room and bathroom) several times and confiscated any item that they considered remotely feminine, including body sprays, LGBT themed magazines, makeup, clothing, a bag of curlers, and a pink shower cap. During one search, the staff told Donisha, in front of other residents, that she was a man and was not allowed to have feminine items. Staff members even threatened to send Donisha back to prison if she did not comply and live as male.
After Donisha called Lambda Legal’s help desk, Lambda Legal submitted a demand letter to The H Group, informing them that state and federal law require that she be affirmed for who she is and prohibit discrimination against transgender people who are incarcerated in government-funded facilities. After receiving Lambda Legal’s letter, The H Group immediately apologized to Donisha and began treating her as a woman while at the facility, they moved Donisha into a single room, and they returned Donisha’s personal items that had previously been confiscated.
Cross Posted from Lambda Legal
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