Civil rights advocates filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday against California's San Bernadino County and its sheriff on behalf of 15 transgender, gay, and bisexual inmates who allegedly faced abuse in West Valley Detention Center, reports the Associated Press.
The lawsuit, which was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and is currently seeking class-action status, contends that the incarcerated victims were held in a segregated unit known as the "alternative lifestyle tank," where they were afforded less access to rehabilitation services and work programs that could have shortened their jail time and taught them job skills.
The inmates also allege that they were often only allowed outside of their two-person cells for 30 minutes a day and were fed in confinement. The suit also alleges the inmates were denied access to chaplains and were not allowed to earn their general education diplomas.
While the complaint focuses on a single county, ACLU attorney Melissa Goldman told the AP that the organization hopes the case will bring national attention and change to how trans, gay, and bi prisoners are mistreated in prisons.
"[Such] inmates should not be forced to accept an additional layer of punishment as the price of safety," she explained. "What's happening in San Bernadino Country is particularly egregious, but unfortunately, it is not unique."
Nick Ou, a 27-year-old gay former inmate agreed. "I shouldn't have choose between my safety and my sexual orientation," he told the AP. "That's pretty much the choice you have to make. They tell you, 'Go back to general population and get a job or stay here and deal with it.'"
San Bernadino's sheriff and county officials declined to comment on the pending litigation.