LGBTQ Agenda: HIV-positive trans woman sues after solitary confinement

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Tuesday July 11, 2023
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Missouri Department of Corrections Director Anne Precythe is among several corrections staff being sued by a Black trans woman who alleges she was kept in solitary confinement in prison because of her HIV status. Photo: Courtesy MDOC
Missouri Department of Corrections Director Anne Precythe is among several corrections staff being sued by a Black trans woman who alleges she was kept in solitary confinement in prison because of her HIV status. Photo: Courtesy MDOC

A transgender woman is suing the director of the Missouri Department of Corrections and several staff, alleging that she was placed in solitary confinement for six years because of her HIV status after she was "violently assaulted," according to a civil complaint.

The woman, identified in the lawsuit as Jane Roe, was released on parole in 2022 and is no longer in prison. The lawsuit states that she "attempted to complete suicide multiple times while in solitary confinement in a men's prison as a result of the horrific conditions of her solitary confinement." The suit was filed by attorneys for Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, the MacArthur Justice Center, and the law firm Shook, Hardy & Bacon.

The complaint does not say why Roe was in prison; Lambda Legal has not responded to multiple inquiries asking that question.

"Ms. Roe was trapped in isolation with no way to challenge her conditions," Shubra Ohri, an attorney with the McArthur Justice Center, stated in a news release. "Six years of that led Ms. Roe to self-harm, suicidal ideation, and actual suicide attempts. This tracks with widespread consensus among the human rights experts, psychologists, physicians and mental health authorities who say solitary confinement is torturous and should be abolished."

The complaint against corrections director Anne Precythe and other staff was filed in the United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri on June 27.

"No person should be subjected to the inhumane and devastating effects of long-term solitary confinement, conditions that Ms. Roe faced every day for more than six years," stated Richard Saenz, Lambda Legal senior attorney, criminal justice and police misconduct strategist. "We filed this lawsuit to hold the Missouri Department of Corrections accountable for its use of an unconstitutional and discriminatory policy that singles out people living with HIV."

The Missouri Department of Corrections did not return the B.A.R.'s request for comment on the suit as of press time.


Roe, a Black trans woman, has been living with HIV since 2008. HIV infection unchecked progresses to AIDS, but not when people infected with the virus adhere to antiretroviral therapy, which was the case with Roe. Those whose viral loads are undetectable are also not able to transmit HIV to others, which was also the case with Roe.

About 13 months into her prison term, Roe "was brutally assaulted by her cellmate who attempted to sexually assault her," the complaint states.

"At the time of the assault, Ms. Roe's HIV status was generally known by prison staff and other incarcerated people," the complaint states. "Prison staff, including defendant [corrections caseworker Scott] Kintner, and other incarcerated people harassed Ms. Roe on account of her HIV status. After she was assaulted, defendants' records state that Ms. Roe was placed in administrative segregation because of her HIV status and her involvement in a 'PREA event.'"

PREA stands for the Prison Rape Elimination Act, a federal law signed by then-President George W. Bush in 2003. PREA states that the U.S. Department of Justice "make the prevention of prison rape a top priority in each prison system." In this case, Missouri prison officials "arbitrarily elected to punish Ms. Roe, the victim of the assault, ordering that she be classified based on her HIV status under MODOC's 'Mandated Single Cell Assignment' policy as an "immediate and long-term danger to other offenders' who could be placed in the same cell with her, and placed Ms. Roe in administrative segregation," according to the complaint.

The policy states that mandatory single-cell assignment is for "offenders who are considered an immediate or a long-term danger to other offenders that would be celled with that offender, based on extremely violent, aggressive, threatening actions toward others, which may include murder/manslaughter, sexual assault/rape, assault with serious physical injury, sexually active HIV positive offender."

The complaint alleges that the defendants "did not conduct an individualized assessment of Ms. Roe and failed to consider that Ms. Roe's HIV was virally suppressed, and she therefore was incapable of transmission of HIV. Additionally, defendants did not explain or otherwise justify their determination that Ms. Roe was capable of transmission of HIV despite having ready access to her medical records to support their determination."

This despite the fact that it's illegal under federal law to discriminate against persons with HIV infection as it fits the definition of a disability under the Americans With Disabilities Act, which was signed by Bush's father, President George H.W. Bush, in 1990.

The complaint states, "as a person incarcerated within a MODOC facility, Ms. Roe was a 'qualified individual' under Title II of the ADA."

The U.S. government's own website states that "persons with HIV disease, either symptomatic or asymptomatic, have physical impairments that substantially limit one or more major life activities and thus are protected by the ADA." The same page states that persons "may be excluded" only in the case of a "'direct threat,' that cannot be eliminated or reduced to an acceptable level by reasonable modifications."

Roe was expressly told her HIV status was the reason for the change to a single-cell assignment, according to the suit.

"As a result of the foregoing, Ms. Roe has suffered tremendous and ongoing damage including but not limited to physical harm and mental suffering, all directly and proximately caused by Defendants' actions and omissions, and due to their unconstitutional and discriminatory policies and practices," the complaint states.

The complaint also states that Roe asked for women's clothing and hormone replacement therapy for at least three years. She never received these, according to the complaint.

The suit is seeking compensatory, punitive, and nominal damages for Roe, as well as permanently enjoining Missouri prisons from placing people living with HIV in its custody in solitary confinement.

"We seek justice for our client who endured six years of unwarranted solitary confinement. We will work to prevent this from ever happening to another human being," Shook partner Gregory Wu stated.

LGBTQ Agenda is an online column that appears weekly. Got a tip on queer news? Contact John Ferrannini at [email protected]

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