Skip to Main Content

Need help understanding your rights as an LGBTQ+ person or someone living with HIV? Click here to visit our virtual Help Desk.

Lambda Legal filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Passion Star (legal name: Zollicoffer), a transgender woman currently in the custody of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ), arguing that TCDJ officials have displayed deliberate indifference to threats of sexual assault and violence against Ms. Star in TDCJ’s male facilities.

In the six male facilities where she has been housed, male inmates have identified Ms. Star as feminine, and she has been raped, forced to submit to undesired sexual acts to escape violence, and/or threatened with sexual assault. She has filed dozens of grievances, complaints and requests to be placed in safekeeping, but instead of taking measures to protect her, TDCJ officials have told her to “suck dick,” “fight” or to stop “acting gay” if she does not want to be assaulted. Even after horrific attacks, prison officials refuse to move Ms. Star to safekeeping to protect her from violence and retaliation in the general population.

The Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), passed unanimously by Congress, requires states to take measure to eliminate sexual abuse of people in custody by, for example, screening and separating particularly vulnerable people, like transgender women in male facilities, from likely aggressors.  Gov. Perry, however, dismissed the PREA standards as “ill-conceived” and decided to pass up funding for Texas that the Department of Justice had earmarked for the prevention of sexual assault in detention facilities.

Now 30, as a teenager Ms. Star pled guilty to aggravated kidnapping after her boyfriend refused to return the used car they were test driving to the dealership, instead driving for several hours with the car salesman in the passenger seat and Ms. Star in the back.  Ms. Star was sentenced to 20 years in prison and transferred to the custody of the custody of TDCJ.

“Somebody, somehow, needs to shed light on what is taking place here in Texas prisons,” Ms. Star said in a written statement. “TDCJ officials get away with so much and disregard so many legitimate threats to people’s safety, and it needs to stop somewhere. I fight for my life every day in here. Safety from rape and assault is not a privilege. It’s a right, and I hope that this lawsuit will help make sure this doesn’t happen to anyone else.”