Sunday Hinton, a transgender woman jailed in Washington, D.C., has sued the city in federal court for incarcerating her in the same housing unit as male inmates despite identifying as female.
Attorneys representing Ms. Hinton filed the lawsuit Tuesday in D.C., requesting the court order their client moved to a general population women’s housing unit in accordance with her gender identity.
The lawyers also raised concerns about the D.C. Department of Corrections policy for jailing trans inmates by anatomy, not gender, and requested an injunction requiring the District to reverse course.
By late Wednesday afternoon, the Department of Corrections said it decided to have Ms. Hinton moved to a cell that she will share with another transgender woman located within the men’s housing unit.
Lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union of D.C. representing Ms. Hinton could not immediately confirm her whereabouts, however, and it was unclear how a transfer would affect their larger case.
In addition to seeking relief for Ms. Hinton, her lawyers have requested the case be certified as a class action covering all transgender inmated jailed by anatomy now and in the future by D.C.
The lawyers said around 40 to 60 transgender people are currently housed in DOC custody, “with the vast majority, if not all of them,” housed based on their sexual anatomy rather than gender identity.
“DOC‘s policy of focusing on anatomy rather than gender identity is both discriminatory and dangerous,” said Megan Yan, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union of D.C. representing Ms. Hinton.
“It forces trans individuals, particularly trans women, to choose between a heightened risk of sexual violence and a near-certain mental health crisis,” the attorney said about existing DOC policy.
In the 14-page class action complaint, the lawyers said they were filing the suit more than two weeks into Ms. Hinton being jailed in the men’s unit awaiting trial for allegations of unarmed burglary.
The lawyers said current policy lets DOC decide upon intake to hold a person in a men’s or women’s unit presumptively based on anatomy unless its Transgender Housing Committee, or THC, recommends otherwise and the warden of the jail approves. They said THC is made up of a social worker, medical practitioner, mental health clinician, correctional supervisor, case manager and expert in trans affairs, they said in the suit.
“DOC shall classify an inmate who has male genitals as a male and one who has female genitals as a female, unless otherwise recommended by the [THC] and approved in accordance with this policy,” the lawyer quoted the current policy.
The lawyers said the committee last met in January 2020, however, suggesting all inmates taken into custody during the last 16 months have been jailed based on anatomy.
“DOC‘s demeaning policy violates transgender individuals’ rights under the U.S. Constitution and the District of Columbia Human Rights Act by discriminating on the basis of gender identity and sex and by exposing transgender individuals to heightened risk of sexual violence,” the lawyers alleged in their lawsuit, noting trans women housed with men bear a high risk of sexual harassment and assault.
Asked about the lawsuit Wednesday, the DOC said that Ms. Hinton had been in single-occupancy quarantine for 14 days because of the coronavirus outbreak prior to going before the committee this week.
“The Committee met this morning and approved Ms. Hinton‘s request to share a cell with another transgender woman and be located on the men’s housing unit,” DOC told The Washington Times on Wednesday.