Trans woman sues jail after she was placed in a men’s facility, deadnamed by staff, and denied her vital hormone treatment
A trans woman is suing a jail in Florida where she was kept in a men’s facility, deadnamed and denied her hormone treatment for 11 days over unpaid traffic tickets.
According to WUSF, 37-year-old Karla Bello was incarcerated in Pinellas County Jail in November last year for 11 days after she missed a court date to address unpaid traffic tickets.
Bello, a home health worker, was struggling financially at the time and was not able to pay the tickets or the $513 bail set for her release.
Although she told jail staff that she was a woman, she was placed in a men’s housing unit and repeatedly deadnamed and misgendered.
She said: “They stripped me of my identity. Even though the whole world knows me as Karla, calls me ‘miss,’ they wanted to label me male, and they called me ‘sir,’ and it was very painful to have to endure that.”
The jail also stripped the trans woman of everything that affirmed her gender, including her bra, hair extensions and vital hormone treatment.
Prison staff told her she was not allowed to take her medication because, as a trans person with difficulty accessing healthcare, she did not have a prescription.
Suddenly stopping her hormone treatment caused Bello to develop chest pains, other physical problems and extreme emotional distress. Records reportedly show that prison staff investigated her physical symptoms, but found no medical problems.
“It landed me in the psych ward,” said Bello. “Like I started getting depressed, I was getting suicidal.
“I had decided, I can’t live with this, I’m going to die in here.”
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Eventually, a trans rights group heard about Bello’s situation, paid her bail and enlisted the help of attorney Rook Elizabeth Ringer of Lento Law Group, who will now represent the trans woman in her lawsuit against Pinellas County, Sheriff Bob Gualtieri and 15 officers and jail staff.
Ringer said: “Pinellas County’s treatment of Ms Bello is not only shocking, and as we believe, unlawful, but it shows the continuing prejudice transgender people face in Florida and across the United States.
“No county official would dare place a non-transgender person in a jail housing unit that conflicted with their gender identity.
“And yet, that is exactly what Pinellas County sheriff’s officers and prison officials did with Ms Bello for apparently no other reason than that she is a transgender person.”
As well as seeking damages through the federal lawsuit, Bello is also demanding that Pinellas County implement new policies to protect trans inmates in the future.
She said: “I want justice, for me, but at the same time it has to be a big deal, because some other transgender woman might not be so lucky when it happens to her.”