A transgender woman who alleged discrimination at a residential drug rehabilitation may proceed with her suit, Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Debra Silber ruled. Sabrina Wilson, a male-to-female transgender woman, fled Phoenix House, a drug detoxification and rehabilitation center with facilities located throughout New York, including three in Brooklyn, after, according to a news report, “being denied the ability to fully express her female identity.”
Wilson, 32, was arrested in 2008 on a drug offense and agreed to enroll in a drug rehab center in lieu of prison. Having been diagnosed with gender identity disorder when she was 16, Wilson had struggled with her identity for years and had yet to make the physical transformation from male to female. Upon arriving at Phoenix House, Wilson made it clear to Phoenix House staff that while she is biologically male, she “identifies with the female gender.” Notwithstanding her gender identification, Wilson was required to use the male restrooms and sit with the male population during group sessions, because Wilson is actually male, and was told to remove her wigs, makeup and high heels despite the fact that biological women wear able to don such attire.
Wilson asserted that a counselor advised her that “”[w]e can’t suit your needs as a transgender in our program,” and a program that did “meet her needs” was not located by Phoenix House. Wilson subsequently fled Phoenix House and was sentenced to 2½ years in prison. Wilson then sued, alleging that Phoenix House discriminated against her based on her sexual orientation as well as her disability of gender identification disorder.
Silber deduced that Wilson encountered “gender discrimination” for failing to “conform to stereotypical gender norms.” Therefore, as transgender individuals “transgress society’s gender norms in some manner,” Silber said, they should be granted a higher level of protection against discrimination and afforded the court’s protection for “aid or redress.” It is not clear whether this was under a claim for sex discrimination or sexual orientation discrimination, as we could not obtain the decision.
Phoenix House proffered the argument that they could not have discriminated against Wilson because Wilson did not suffer from a disability and if, in the alternative, Wilson did possess a disability but it was not made known to Phoenix House. Silber dismissed this argument, stating that “[g]ender Identity Disorder is a disability under both the New York State Human Rights Law and the New York City Human Rights Law,” and therefore Wilson was afforded the protections of these relevant statutes.