DOJ Backs a Transgender Woman’s Fight for Healthcare

Screen Shot 2015-04-03 at 9.44.59 PMA transgender woman has the support of the Department of Justice in her fight to continue her hormone therapy. Ashley Diamond brought suit against the Georgia Department of Corrections in February because they refused to provide her with the female hormone therapy medications that she took for 17 years prior to incarceration. Prison officials have countered that she was not documented as transgender on prison intake forms, thus making her ineligible for the medication under their “freeze frame” policy, which allows incarcerated people to continue treatment but not to expand or initiate anything new.

Ms. Diamond’s complaint alleges that prison officials not only denied her hormone therapy, but also subjected her to “harassment and reprimand” for her failure to conform to male stereotypes, put her in solitary confinement for “pretending to be a woman,” and knowingly exposed her to “repeated, unspeakable sexual assaults.” Without her hormone therapy she’s been going through physical withdrawal while her body is “violently transformed” from a woman to a man.

The Department of Justice has weighed in with support, calling the “freeze frame” policies unconstitutional and arguing for independent assessments. The DOJ doesn’t have any official “say” here – they’re a federal body, and this is a state case. But of course their input is persuasive, and it also signals the general viewpoint of the office. On Friday, Attorney General Eric Holder (the head of the DOJ) described the movement for LGBTQ rights as a continuation of the civil rights movement.

Screen Shot 2015-04-03 at 10.41.18 PMTransgender people in prison suffer prejudice and violence not only at the hands of prison guards but also from fellow prisoners. Ms. Diamond’s case has the potential to create a crucial right for transgender prisoners, as does a different case that was favorably decided today for Michelle Lael-Norsworthy in California. A federal court granted Ms. Lael-Norsworthy the right to sexual reassignment surgery this morning, the first time a court has made such a ruling. I hope that the DOJ’s position and Ms. Lael-Norsworthy’s success in the Northern District of California are signs of a desperately needed culture shift in this arena.

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