Three transgender people are accusing officials at a Florida jail of harassment and anti-transgender abuse in detention. An eight-page letter delivered to Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava Wednesday details their allegations of mistreatment and discrimination at Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center (TGK) in 2020.
Jae Bucci, Christian Pallidine and Gabriela Amaya Cruz were held at TGK after they were arrested in connection with Black Lives Matter protests in Miami last year. They have all been released and charges against them have been dropped.
According to the letter, Pallidine, a transgender man, was arrested in May 2020 for a curfew violation. Jail staff allegedly forced him to show his genitals to officers, according to the letter, asking gratuitous and offensive questions and calling him “it” and “hermaphrodite.” Pallidine was held in solitary confinement because he is transgender, the letter states.
“I am still haunted by what happened to me at TGK,” Pallidine said in a statement. “I was strip searched by four officers.”
Amaya Cruz, a transgender woman, was arrested in July 2020 during a march for Black trans lives. In custody, officers referred to her as a man, mocked her and forced her to remove her wig, outing her as transgender to others in custody, she said. In response to her request to be searched by a female officer, a guard allegedly said, “You have a dick, so we are going to treat you like a man in here, and you can’t tell us otherwise.” Officers made her wear men’s clothes upon release, the letter says.
Bucci, another transgender woman, also claims she experienced severe abuse because she is transgender. Like Amaya Cruz, Bucci also said officers at the jail also refused to let her leave with women’s clothing.
“I was misgendered and abused by the staff and officers, forced to undergo a humiliating and illegal strip search, and placed in solitary confinement,” said Bucci, who was charged with obstructing traffic during a protest. “The officers tried to rip my own hair off of my head because they thought it was a wig.”
The Miami-Dade Corrections and Rehabilitation Department could not immediately be reached for comment. But a spokesman told the Miami Herald in August that while he couldn’t comment on specific cases, “inmates with male genitals shall be assigned to male housing. Inmates with female genitals shall be assigned to female housing. A transgender inmate may be housed in general population or administrative confinement.” That same spokesman told the Herald that all inmates are released with a unisex release uniform.
Alll three are represented by the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund (TLDEF), the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Harvard Law School LGBTQ+ Advocacy Clinic, which authored the letter. The groups say the abuse represents systemic mistreatment facing transgender people in prisons and jails throughout the country and want Levine Cava and her administration to hammer out new policies for detaining transgender people. Levine Cava, whose daughter is gay, has made a name for herself as an outspoken supporter of transgender rights.
“The mistreatment our clients experienced is profoundly dangerous and damaging, and because it came from multiple staff members, sometimes with direct supervisor involvement and approval, it seems likely that many other transgender people have experienced the same or worse,” Gabriel Arkles, TLDEF’s senior counsel, said in a statement. “But there are ways to address these problems, and we are invested in working with the county to develop meaningful solutions.”