A transgender woman from New York was arrested in Savannah, Ga., last week for allegedly exposing her breasts, reports Savannah's WSAV. But when deputies booked Ashley Del Valle, 38, she says a nurse examined her genitals, and determined that she was "technically a male." As a result, Del Valle was placed in a holding cell in the men's prison ward.
Del Valle was alone in various cells in the men's ward for three days before her family posted her $3,500 bail. She told WSAV that she often felt unsafe, and claims that deputies repeatedly referred to her as "thing," "brotha," and "nigga."
"I just felt like I wasn't being treated like a human being," said Del Valle, who was assigned male at birth, but has lived as a woman for more than 20 years, and legally changed her name in 2002.
The chief deputy at the jail says his employees followed existing protocol to keep Del Valle in a private cell, but did admit to misgendering her.
"First off, Ashley is still a man," chief deputy Roy Harris told GA Voice. "I think he's had some surgery, breast implants. But technically he is still a male which poses a problem. We do have a policy in place. Typically we put them in isolation."
Zack Ford at ThinkProgress LGBT notes that while housing transgender people in isolation is generally standard prison protocol, such isolation can be punishment in and of itself.
"Though Del Valle was kept in a private cell, the fact that she was still surrounded by men still made her vulnerable to harassment," writes Ford. "An isolation cell can also be a different form of torture, depriving an individual of any social contact. Whatever transgender policy the jail supposedly has, misgendering her and endangering her in such ways did not prioritize her safety nor convey even the most basic respect for her identity."
Del Valle is considering legal action, which might have some weight, especially given that Del Valle was arrested for a charge that can only be committed by a woman — since a man exposing his nipples does not qualify as indecent exposure — but then jailed as a man. Del Valle also contests the claim that she exposed herself at all; she told WSAV says she was just wearing a sheer top, and says she did not argue with the arresting officer, despite also being charged with disorderly conduct.
Watch the report from WSAV below, complete with problematic language including the segment's title, "Incarcerating the Transgendered", and language from the reporter, who calls Del Valle "a transgender."