170 Transgender Women In Colorado Prisons File Lawsuit Claiming Violence and Sexual Harassment

About 170 transgender women who are incarcerated in Colorado have filed a lawsuit against the Colorado Department of Corrections (CDOC), alleging that they have been discriminated against based on their identity and have been subjected to unsafe conditions.

The suit, which was filed by the Transgender Law Center (TLC) and King & Greisen, LLP on Friday, lists seven transgender women who are incarcerated at the CDOC that have experienced physical violence and sexual harassment while they are serving time. The lawsuit is demanding that the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act and the Colorado Constitution mandate that CDOC provide transgender women the same rights given to non-transgender inmates in custody, as well as make sure they are safe and given proper medical care.

“Right now there are around 170 transgender women who Colorado incarcerates with men. Thousands of transgender women are locked up in men’s prisons around the country, and as a result, they are often subjected to horrifying abuse,” said Shawn Meerkamper, a senior staff attorney with TLC, said in a statement. “We’ve filed this lawsuit as an urgent reminder that when the state takes away someone’s freedom, they take on the responsibility for their well-being and safety.”

The lawsuit lists seven transgender women, four suffering from gender dysphoria, who are incarcerated at the CDOC and have experienced harassment while in prison.

Facts About the Lawsuit

  • Kandice Raven, one of the transgender women in the suit, is incarcerated at the CDOC male correctional facility in Sterling, Colorado, according to the suit. Raven, 30, was raped in 2014 and has been brutally assaulted numerous times while incarcerated, the lawsuit claims. The CDOC denied her multiple requests for transition-related surgery and has been dealing with severe gender dysphoria. Raven attempted suicide twice and attempted self-castration while in prison to deal with her severe gender dysphoria.

  • Jane Gallentine, a transgender woman who has been incarcerated since 2010, is also incarcerated at a male correctional facility in Sterling. While in prison, she was raped several times by inmates and a corrections officer, the lawsuit states. One of her abusers forced her to tattoo his name on her neck, while the corrections officer, who repeatedly raped her, was never disciplined even though Gallentine told her superiors. The suit states that “Jane lives in a constant state of severe anxiety and depression due to lack of medical treatment, lack of mental health treatment, and a persistent fear of sexual assault and a violent death.”

  • Taliyah Murphy has been incarcerated since 2009 and, like the other women, is in a male facility. Murphy, who is also dealing with depression due to her gender dysphoria, has been a mentor to other women incarcerated in the CDOC, the suit claims. She has asked for transition-related surgery multiple times despite getting a recommendation from a CDOC psychologist and has asked to be transferred to a women’s prison, according to the lawsuit.

  • Amber Miller, 32, is incarcerated at a male facility in Buena Vista. Miller has been misgendered and has experienced “unreasonable obstacles” trying to obtain her medication, according to the lawsuit. Miller filed a Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) report stating that she was raped and harassed by incarcerated men as well as a male corrections officer, according to the lawsuit. Because she filed a report, Miller was reportedly stripped naked by a group of male guards, handcuffed and then placed in the hole for several weeks.

  • Megan Gulley, a transgender woman from Denver, has been incarcerated by CDOC in its male correctional facilities since 2002. Gulley, who is currently housed in the Fremont male correctional facility, was diagnosed with gender dysphoria and has been on hormone replacement therapy since 2014, the suit states. She has been raped several times and has been threatened by gang members in the facility for sex. Although she has asked to be transferred to a women’s prison and for transition surgery, she has been denied multiple times, the suit claims.

  • Lavinya Karpierz, a transgender woman, has been in CDOC prisons since 1998. Karpierz, who has been on hormone replacement therapy since 2016, has suffered from depression because of her gender dysphoria and “has lived in constant fear of being raped in the male facilities,” according to the lawsuit. Despite this, she has been denied transition surgery multiple times. While serving time in a CDOC male facility in 2015, she fought off an attempted rape in Fremont and was placed in solitary confinement for fighting. Karpierz was finally moved to Denver Women’s Correctional Facility in October 2019 after years of asking for a transfer, the suit states.

  • Cupcake Rivers, 42, has been incarcerated in CDOC male correctional facilities since 1999, the suit claims. In 2004, Rivers came out as transgender and began hormone replacement therapy in 2015. Rivers “lives in fear of being raped in the male facilities and is often subjected to constant, severe and vulgar sexual harassment by incarcerated men, and she continues to suffer from depression and anxiety and loses sleep worrying for her safety,” the lawsuit states. Like all of the transgender women listed in the lawsuit, she has been denied requests for transition surgery.

What Now

The CDOC did not return The North Star’s request for comment. In a statement toNBC, a spokesperson from the department told the news outlet that officials are working to ensure that incarcerated individuals are safe while they are serving time.

"Colorado has spent the last several years diligently working to develop and implement thoughtful and informed policies and procedures for the fair and respectful treatment of transgender offenders in our custody, and is considered a leader in this area nationally," the statement to the news station read. "We work every day to find the best possible balance between the desire to protect the dignity of all offenders, with the need to ensure their safety."

The mistreatment of transgender individuals in prison has been an ongoing problem. A 2015 report from the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) found that nearly 28,000 transgender adults experienced “frequent harassment, profiling, and abuse by law enforcement officers and high rates of incarceration.” The study also found that transgender people are nearly ten times more likely to be sexually assaulted in prison than non-transgender inmates, and that 40 percent of transgender people in prison have reported a sexual assault in the previous year.

About the Author

Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.