Tuesday, Donisha McShan leaves The H Group – the Marion, Illinois, halfway house where she was receiving substance abuse counseling, as a proud transgender woman who successfully fought for her right to be treated as a woman while at the facility.
“When Donisha McShan called our help desk, we were very concerned that The H Group was trying to force her to present as a gender that does not match who she is. No one should be stripped of their dignity because they are incarcerated or in transitional housing,” said Jael Humphrey, Staff Attorney for Lambda Legal. “Ms. McShan is clearly a smart, courageous woman trying to set herself up to stay out of prison in the future, but the discrimination she faced at the halfway house was a distraction from her rehabilitation. Being denied the respect and dignity of who you are is incredibly harmful, particularly for transgender people, a community that already faces disproportionate amounts of discrimination, depression, violence, and suicide.”
McShan was paroled to The H Group in October 2013, to complete a criminal sentence and receive treatment for substance abuse. McShan is regularly tested for drug use and has been drug free since April of 2013. She is enrolled in school and has a job, and she was allowed to leave the facility campus to attend her classes and go to work.
After relocating to The H Group, the facility assigned McShan to the male-only unit even though there is a women and co-ed unit. In spite of McShan informing the staff that she identifies as a woman and lives her life as a woman, the staff at The H Group insisted on addressing her with male pronouns and told she could not bring feminine items into the facility. The staff even searched her living area (a shared room and bathroom) several times and confiscated any item that they considered remotely feminine, including body sprays, LGBT themed magazines, makeup, clothing, a bag of curlers, and a pink shower cap. During one search, the staff told McShan, in front of other residents, that she was a man and was not allowed to have feminine items. Staff members even threatened to send McShan back to prison if she did not comply and live as male.
After McShan called Lambda Legal’s help desk, Lambda Legal submitted a demand letter to The H Group, informing them that state and federal law prohibit discrimination against transgender people who are incarcerated in government-funded facilities. After receiving Lambda Legal’s letter, The H Group immediately ceased their harassment of McShan and began treating her as a woman while at the facility, moved McShan into a single room, and discontinued searches and confiscation of McShan’s personal items.
“I’m so thankful I stood up for myself. No one should have to go through what I did,” McShan said. “When they stripped me of my things and called me ‘he,’ I felt like I was being punished for who I am, not for what I had done. I hope that my story can help to further transgender rights in correctional institutions.”
Read Lambda Legal’s Toolkit for Transgender Prisoners in Crisis here.
Read the full story about this issue on Lambda Legal’s website here.