News & Opinion
Makyyla Holland, a 25-year-old Black transgender woman, won a landmark settlement with Broome County, NY after suffering from violence, discrimination, and denial of medical care while incarcerated.
From the settlement, Broome County has agreed to an expansive policy that upholds the rights of transgender people in regard to housing placement, access to medical care, searches, and freedom from harassment and discrimination. Holland will also be rewarded $160,000.
In early 2021, amid the six weeks Holland spent in the Broome County Correctional Facility, located in Binghamton, NY, she underwent severe, unlawful treatment from the Sheriff's office and its staff because of her sex, transgender status, and disability.
According to the Binghamton Police Department, her charges were criminal contempt and assault. She pleaded guilty to contempt of court and she was sentenced to time served.
According to Holland, she was placed in a men’s housing unit despite her request to be transferred with women; isolated in segregation, delayed and denied access to prescribed medications, including antidepressants and hormone medications; misgendered; and routinely harassed. Through the entirety of her period in jail, her attempts for help were completely ignored.
“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 hormones for a period of time, forcing me to go into agonizing withdrawal," said Holland.
In the following year, Holland filed a lawsuit against Broome County, NY, its sheriff, and jail officials due to the abusive experience she endured in the Broome County Jail.
In the suit, she is represented by the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund (TLDEF), the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), and pro bono counsel Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton, & Garrison LLP.
On August 24, 2023, it was announced that Holland reached a landmark settlement with Broome County, NY. As a result, Broome County is committing itself to validating and protecting transgender, intersex, lesbian, gay, and bisexual people in its custody by adapting its policies to comply with federal and state laws.
The county will specifically implement the following:
House people consistent with their gender identity or within the unit consistent with the sex designation the person in custody believes is safest for them, with limited exceptions.
Conduct searches consistent with the person in custody’s own view of what gender officer would be safest to perform the search, with limited exceptions.
Ensure that staff at the jail respect a person’s gender identity in all other contexts, including name and pronoun use.
Ensure access to clothing and toiletry items consistent with a person’s gender identity, and facilitate access to gender-affirming items such as binders, wigs, and gaffs.
Ensure access to medical care free from discrimination on the basis of sex, gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation, including access to medical care for treatment of gender dysphoria.
“With this policy, I want my trans siblings to know that we have rights…You should feel safe in any housing situation you are in. No one should take your medication. You should be able to live out your truth and stay true to who you are,” said Holland.
Sadly, in the case of Makyyla Holland, her experience as a Black transwoman in the carceral system is a representation of reality. Transgender, non-binary, intersex, and gender non-conforming people, especially Black transwomen, are targeted, criminalized, and incarcerated at extremely disproportionate rates with 1 out of 2 Black trans & gender non conforming people having been incarcerated during their lifetime.
Trans people in prison are also sexually assaulted at a rate ten times higher than the general prison population. In addition, 44% of trans people in prison report being denied hormone therapy and many others are often denied gender-affirming surgery & healthcare.
Although there have been modest improvements in certain parts of the country such as the case in August 2020 in which Jena Faith, a transgender woman, reached a landmark settlement in Steuben County, NY for experiencing similar harms as Makyyla Holland, a cultural shift still needs to occur.
In this year alone, 566 anti-trans bills have been introduced with 83 bills already passed. It is apparent that the foundation of the prison system is inherently anti-trans and anti-Black and the political and social environment parallels that.
Fortunately, Makyyla Holland received the justice that she sought, however, the trauma she endured would have been completely avoidable if the prison system, and by extension -society as a whole, respected and humanized Black, transwomen in the first place.
Makyyla we are so proud of you for the change you have made for yourself and for others following after you. Keep going!
Check out more of Makyyla Holland’s story here.