Broome County Jail settles with trans woman, announces new LGBTQ guidelines

Makyyla Holland, 25, filed a lawsuit that prompted the Broome County Jail to implement policies for the treatment of LGBTQ people in custody.
Makyyla Holland, 25, filed a lawsuit that prompted the Broome County Jail to implement policies for the treatment of LGBTQ people in custody.
Michael O’Neal/New York Civil Liberties Union

The Broome County Jail in Binghamton is undergoing policy changes to improve conditions for LGBTQ people in custody as a result of a settlement stemming from a lawsuit filed by a Black transgender woman who said she suffered violence, medical mistreatment, and other injustices while housed at the county jail, according to the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU).

Makyyla Holland, 25, was motivated to file a lawsuit last year based on her experience in the Broome County Jail in 2021 when she said the county sheriff’s office discriminated against her on the basis of sex, transgender status, and disability. She said she was beaten, faced illegal strip searches, placed in custody with men and in isolation, and was not allowed to take her necessary medications like antidepressants and hormone treatments. 

The settlement led the jail to implement new policies to house individuals consistent with their gender identity; allow people in custody to specify the gender of the officer they wish to search them; respect people’s gender identity in contexts ranging from pronoun use to names; provide clothing and toiletry in accordance with gender identity and supply gender-affirming items such as wigs; and administer medical care without discrimination on the basis of sex, gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation. 

Holland received $160,000 in the settlement.

“No one should ever have to go through what I went through at the Broome County Jail and I am so grateful that with this new policy hopefully no one else ever will; this is a great outcome,” Holland said, according to the NYCLU. “This policy and policies like it can impact a lot of my community, and I will continue to fight to ensure that no other trans person in New York or anywhere has to endure what I did.”

Broome County Sheriff Fred Akshar, a former state senator, welcomed the settlement.

“While this settlement stems from an incident and subsequent lawsuit that occurred before I was elected sheriff, I’m pleased we were able to amicably reach a resolution that establishes clear LGBTI Guidelines, which were previously nonexistent, to address the rights of LGBTI inmates while maintaining the safety and security of individuals both housed and working at the Broome County Correctional Facility,” Akshar said. “It’s another important step forward in pragmatically and safely modernizing policies to meet the needs of those we serve and protect as we work to build a better, safer community for everyone in Broome County.”

As a state senator, Akshar notably opposed the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act — which added gender identity and expression as protected classes under the state’s human rights and hate crimes law — when it was approved in 2019. Akshar spoke out against it by perpetuating false hysteria over bathrooms, saying the legislation would “open the door to child predators.” On another occasion, Askhar was one of five members of the upper house to vote against a state bill calling to conduct a study to determine employment rates for trans New Yorkers as part of a new law to explore workforce disparities on the basis of gender identity.

The Broome County settlement comes three years after another upstate jail — in Steuben County in the Finger Lakes — faced a similar situation when a trans woman who spent four weeks there was transferred to the men’s unit because of her gender identity and faced sexual harassment and abuse. Like Holland, her medication was also withheld from her. That settlement led to changes at the jail, which cracked down on wrongdoing by calling for termination or criminal charges for substantiated cases of misconduct.

Holland was represented by the New York Civil Liberties Union, the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund, and pro bono counsel Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP.

“No one should be subjected to violence, illegally strip searched, denied necessary medical care, or forced into unsafe housing conditions while in jail, and we are pleased that Broome County has agreed to implement policies that will better protect transgender people’s safety while in custody,” Shayna Medley, a senior litigation staff attorney at the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund, said in a written statement.

Other changes could be on the horizon if proposed legislation advances in the State Legislature. The Gender Identity Respect Dignity and Safety Act, which has been introduced, would direct prisons and jails to house people and provide them with clothing and materials in accordance with their gender identity.

In New York City, meanwhile, the City Council passed legislation this year requiring the Department of Correction to report on information about trans individuals in custody, including their housing placements and when they request to be housed in accordance with their gender identity but are rejected. That report would be submitted to the mayor, the Council speaker, and the public advocate, as well as posted online.