Sabrina Wilson v. Phoenix House (USA)

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.

Wilson v. Phoenix, 25755:11.

Transgender woman suffers from disability, Brooklyn judge rules _ Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

Judge Says Transgender Woman May Sue Drug Program for Bias.


3 thoughts on “Sabrina Wilson v. Phoenix House (USA)

  1. I thought it was Gender Dysphoria, now, and not a psychiatric disorder. Therefore, not a disability. Simply a dissatisfaction with socially proscribed gender norms. I believe this change, from a psychiatric disorder to a personal dissatisfaction was made after a great deal of lobbying, advocacy and politicking by numerous national and international transgender organizations.

    So, which one is it?

    Is it a psychiatric disorder?

    Or is it a personal choice?


  2. It’s my understanding that gender identity is not considered a disability for the purposes of ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act). I believe that gender dysphoria is a psychiatric disorder, but ADA doesn’t recognize it as a disability.

    When one in six women have been victims of rape or sexual assault, common sense tells us that many of these women would have PTSD. If the PTSD is severe enough, they could always ask for an ADA request for reasonable accommodation stating that having to share a restroom, locker room, or shower with a biological male would exacerbate their PTSD and trauma. Since this facility is a drug treatment center, I imagine there are women there who have a history of trauma. Their PTSD is just as important as his gender identity.

    How can anyone prove that gender identity is more important than PTSD? Why is gender dysphoria, a psychiatric disorder, more important than PTSD in a female rape survivor?

    I don’t understand why the facility wouldn’t let this individual dress the way he wanted to dress. If he wanted to wear a wig and makeup, they should have let him keep the makeup and wig.


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