In March of 2008 Sabire Wilson was arrested for drug possession. (I'll not include a photo, since the only ones available are mugshots.) She accepted a plea agreement to enter a drug-treatment facility rather than go to prison. She selected Phoenix House because she understood that it was gay- and lesbian-friendly. She told the admissions counselor that she was still biologically male.
The counselor allowed her to sign up for the Brooklyn branch of Phoenix House as long as she used male dormitories and bathrooms. Wilson agreed as long as she was allowed by the staff to dress as and appear to be a woman.
I'm sure you can see trouble ahead. You wouldn't be alone in that. Sabire stayed at the Brooklyn Branch on Jay Street, which specializes in career training and offers courses at the Beyonce Cosmetology Center. She did well enough in the program that she was made a "resident structure senior coordinator".
In January 2009 a senior counselor invited Wilson to participate in a new group for women "where clients could discuss gender issues associated with addiction". But some of the women complained about her participation and Phoenix House director Sydney Hargrove is alleged to have told her that the counselor should have put her in a male group instead. Hargrove then initiated procedures that would ultimately result in Wilson being removed from the treatment center.
During this meeting, Mr. Hargrove stated to me that he did not have any doubts about my recovery or progress, he just feels that my being transgender and being in the appearance of a woman was going to cause problems at Phoenix House with other residents, and that he doesn't feel that Phoenix House could suit my needs.
After the group ended I spoke with the female residents and found out that there were only 2 or 3 females who had an issue with me attending the group because they never experienced being around a transgender before me.
Thirty-eight men and women in her unit signed a petition calling Wilson "a valued member of this unit" who had "earned the respect of the community".
But the director was not swayed. He informed her that the New York District Attorney would discharge her to the court if she didn't find another program to accommodate her.
Wilson asserts that this treatment caused her severe depression, low self-esteem, paranoia, and a relapse of her drug addiction, which ultimately led to another misdemeanor offense.
She is currently serving a 30-month sentence at Southport Correctional Facility, an all-male supermax prison in Pine City, NY.
She sued Hargrove and Phoenix House (pdf), alleging multiple counts of civil rights violations and false advertising.
She initially sought $5 million in damages and transgender care and sensitivity training for all Phoenix House staff.
This past Monday US District Judge Denise Cote allowed Wilson to seek injunctive relief which would force the Phoenix House to accommodate her under New York Human Rights Law and Section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act of 1871. (I am not a lawyer, nor do I pretend to know exactly how this applies.) Cote rejected her bid for monetary damages, ruling that as a prisoner ordered into a program by the state, she was not a consumer.
A Phoenix House spokeswoman said federal privacy laws prevent her from commenting on Wilson's case, or even confirming that whether Wilson received treatment at the rehab center.