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Trans woman sues officials over abusive treatment in Baltimore jails

Lawsuit says sexual assault occurred after she was placed in all-male dorm



Attorney Eve Hill (standing at podium), representing Chelsea Gilliam (seated on left), speaks at a news conference last week announcing a lawsuit.

A lawsuit filed in federal court in Baltimore on April 18 charges the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services and seven of its high-level officials with subjecting a transgender woman to “cruel and unusual punishment” during the six months she was held in two Baltimore jails.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Chelsea Gilliam, 33, says Gilliam was arrested in December 2021 on an assault charge and was being held while awaiting trial at the Baltimore City Correctional Center and the Maryland Reception, Diagnostic and Classification Center.

“Both facilities refused to accept Ms. Gilliam’s legally changed name and her gender identity,” according to a statement by the Baltimore law firm Brown, Goldstein & Levy, which is representing Gilliam. “While at the Baltimore jail, Ms. Gilliam was placed in a dormitory of all men for three months, from December 2021 to early February 2022,” the statement says.

“Despite her femininity and gender identity as a woman, Ms. Gilliam was forced to live and shower with male inmates,” the statement continues. “During this time, she was harassed by both officers and inmates and ultimately sexually assaulted by another inmate,” it says.

“The jail took no action when Ms. Gilliam reported the assault. She was also denied her hormone treatment,” the statement says.

The statement, which provides a summary of the 35-page lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, says that in February 2022, Gilliam was moved to the Maryland Reception, Diagnostic and Classification Center in Baltimore, which serves as an intake prison for male inmates, according to its website.

It says that during her entire time there Gilliam was placed in segregation, which is a form of solitary confinement, solely because she is transgender.

“Officers shackled Ms. Gilliam by the hands, waist and ankles each time she left her cell, even though she never violated the facility’s rules,” the statement says. “Ms. Gilliam suffered a great deal of anxiety and distress from these experiences,” it says.

The lawsuit alleges that Gilliam was subjected to “cruel and unusual” treatment in violation of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act based on her status as a transgender person with the condition of gender dysphoria.

“Ms. Gilliam received hormone treatments for her gender dysphoria for 18 years prior to her incarceration and has continued to receive hormone treatments since her release,” the lawsuit says. Among other things, it cites reports from experts in the field of medicine and mental health stating that hormone treatment is needed for most people with gender dysphoria and the denial of such treatment is harmful to individuals receiving it.

The lawsuit also states that in their action or lack of action that placed Gilliam in danger while she was incarcerated, corrections officials failed to comply with existing regulations that specifically call for taking steps to protect transgender inmates from potential harm.

Court records show that Gilliam pleaded guilty to a charge of second-degree assault on May 12, 2022, and was sentenced to supervised probation and released.

Eve Hill, the attorney representing Gilliam, told the Washington Blade that Carolyn Scruggs, the current Secretary of the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (MDPSCS), who is named as a defendant in the lawsuit, was appointed to her position in January by the state’s newly elected governor, Wes Moore. Moore has been a longtime supporter of the LGBTQ community.

“We would hope that such a strong supporter of LGBTQ+ rights would want to resolve this matter and make the state’s correctional facilities safe for transgender people, but we have received no response from our overture,” Hill told the Blade.

Hill said that under the federal court system, it is up to the judge to determine the extent of mediation or negotiation that may be required to potentially resolve a lawsuit through a settlement before it goes to trial.

Shortly after the lawsuit was filed, the MDPSCS released a statement saying it could not comment specifically on a pending lawsuit but said it “takes very seriously – and treats with urgency – the protection of every single incarcerated person’s dignity and safety.”

The statement adds, “The Department has met with advocacy groups and has tirelessly worked on the complex issues related to the transgender incarcerated population and is committed to updating its policies as necessary based on correctional and medical professionals’ recommendations to ensure safety of everyone in our facilities.”

The statement concludes by saying MDPSCS is audited by Department of Justice certified auditors that audit one-third of the state’s correctional facilities each year. It says the department “is not aware of any facility that has ever received a corrective action for a transgender related issue.”



Bill to repeal Md. sodomy law to take effect without governor’s signature

Lawmakers approved measure during 2023 legislative session



Maryland Gov. Wes Moore (Public domain photo/Twitter)

Maryland Gov. Wes Moore on Friday announced he will allow a bill that repeals the state’s Unnatural or Perverted Sexual Practices Act to become law without his signature.

State Dels. David Moon (D-Montgomery County) and Luke Clippinger (D-Baltimore City) introduced House Bill 131. State Sen. Clarence Lam (D-Baltimore and Howard Counties) put forth an identical measure in the Maryland Senate.

The General Assembly in 2020 repealed the law’s “sodomy” provision.

“I’m pleased that this bill has now become law, and this is a real and hard-fought win for the LGBTQ community. This was a long-overdue update to the existing law to remove an outdated provision,” Lam told the Washington Blade in a statement. “While we had wanted to remove this provision from the law years ago when sodomy was struck from the statute, opponents fought to keep this with reassurance that it would unlikely ever be used to criminally charge individuals. And just the very next year, the Harford County sheriff’s office used this part of the statute to arrest individuals at a private business.”

“It is unfortunate that it took so long to correct this in the law, but I’m glad to see that this misguided part of the statute is now finally gone,” added Lam. “I appreciate the sustained efforts and patience of all of the advocates who saw this bill through final passage. Even though it took a while, this win is something the LGBTQ community should be proud of and find reassuring.”

Moore, a Democrat, earlier this month signed the Trans Health Equity Act, which requires Maryland’s Medicaid program to cover gender-affirming treatment.

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Joe Vogel announces run for Congress

Openly gay Gen Z delegate took office in January



Maryland state Del. Joe Vogel (D-Montgomery County) at the LGBTQ+ Victory Fund National Champagne Brunch in D.C. on April 23, 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Maryland state Del. Joe Vogel (D-Montgomery County) on Monday announced he is running for Congress.

“We need a new generation of leaders in Washington who understand exactly what’s at stake in this moment,” said the Montgomery County Democrat in his campaign announcement. “We just can’t wait to end gun violence, secure our rights, protect our democracy and save our planet.”

Vogel, 26, was born in Uruguay. 

The openly gay Democrat has represented District 17 in the Maryland House of Delegates in January. Vogel would represent Maryland’s 6th Congressional District if he were to win election in 2024.

Democratic Congressman David Trone, who currently represents the district, last week announced he is running for retiring U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.)’s seat.

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Wes Moore signs transgender rights law

Trans Health Equity Act will require Medicaid to cover gender-affirming treatment



Maryland Gov. Wes Moore on May 3, 2023, signed the Trans Health Equity Act into law. (Photo courtesy of Gov. Wes Moore's office)

Maryland Gov. Wes Moore on Wednesday signed a bill that requires the state’s Medicaid program to cover gender-affirming treatment.

The Trans Health Equity Act is one of the more than 100 measures that Moore signed during a ceremony that took place at the State Capitol. Some of the other bills the governor signed focused on reproductive rights and marijuana.

“Another successful bill signing from (Gov. Wes Moore), (Lieutenant Gov. Aruna Miller), (Senate President Bill Ferguson) and (House Speaker Adrienne Jones),” tweeted state Sen. Mary Washington (D-Baltimore City), who introduced the Trans Health Equity Act in the Maryland Senate. “Today, the Trans Health Equity Act (SB460) was signed into law, protecting the rights of trans Marylanders and offering them equal opportunities.”

The Trans Health Equity Act is slated to take effect on Jan. 1.

Maryland lawmakers during this year’s legislation that ended last month passed a bill that will repeal the state’s Unnatural or Perverted Sexual Practices Act. Moore’s office has not announced when the governor will sign it.

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