On November 22, a class action lawsuit was filed on behalf of approximately 170 transgender women who are alleging abuse and discrimination inside the Colorado Department of Corrections’ (CDOC) male prisons because they are trans, CBS News reported Monday (December 9). 

The case, filed by the Transgender Law Center and King & Greisen law firm, was brought forth by seven women—Jane Gallentine, Megan Gulley, Lavinya Karpierz, Amber Miller, Taliyah Murphy, Kandice Raven and Cupcake Rivers—who are described as “representatives of themselves and all others similarly situated in this class action.”  

“Most of these women are on hormone treatment and have expressed serious and grave concerns about their physical safety, primarily from sexual assault and sexual harassment,” lead attorney Paula Greisen told CBS News. “Sex is a commodity in prison. These women are targets and they’re being treated as chattel.” 

Per CBS News, the current suit comes on the heels of a $170,000 settlement won against CDOC by another trans woman, Lindsay Saunders-Velez, in July 2019, after she was raped while housed in a men’s prison. Greisen was the lawyer on that case as well.

The 17-page lawsuit includes biographical histories for the seven representatives who all have gender dysphoria; some of them have previously attempted suicide and self-castration. The suit also emphasized how these women have repeatedly made requests for protection, to be handled by female guards and to receive transition-related surgery, but were denied.

According to the suit, trans women who are housed in the male CDOC system are in constant danger. The reasons were made clear, from sexual assault to gang violence:  

As women living in men’s prisons, class members are routinely subjected to sexual harassment and often, to sexual violence. Class members are targeted by incarcerated men and male CDOC staff for sexual encounters and are often treated as chattel—traded for favors in the prison environments and subjected to sex trafficking, especially by gang members who seek to control them as their property. Some transgender women in CDOC’s prisons have even had gang symbols forcibly tattooed on their bodies, labeling them as the property of certain gangs—and then forced to provide sexual favors to those gang members.

In addition to asking for the appropriate medical and mental health care for incarcerated transgender women, plaintiffs are seeking an undisclosed amount of financial compensation. 

Read the full lawsuit here.