While prison is a harrowing experience for anyone—especially gender-nonconforming prisoners—the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit gave trans inmates some respite today when it upheld their right to receive trans-related medical care while incarcerated. The ACLU and Lambda Legal had challenged a Wisconsin law that prohibited prison doctors from prescribing hormones or sex-reassignment surgery to transgender inmates.
“This was a discriminatory law that cruelly singled out transgender people by denying them—and only them—the medical care they need,” said attorney John Knight of the ACLU’s Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project. “Too often the medical needs of transgender persons are not treated as the serious health issues that they are. We are glad that the appeals court has found that medical professionals, not the Wisconsin legislature, should make medical decisions for inmates.”
In April 2010, a federal district court struck down the so-called “Inmate Sex Change Prevention Act.” In today’s ruling, the court affirmed that, “refusing to provide effective treatment for a serious medical condition serves no valid penological purpose and amounts to torture.” The state had argued the ban on hormone therapy wasn’t cruel and unusual because alternative treatments like psychotherapy and anti-depressants would still be available.
“The medical needs of transgender people don’t disappear once they enter prison,” said Lambda Legal trans-rights attorney Dru Levasseur. We’re glad that the court has ruled that the legislature cannot outlaw the only effective treatment for some people with Gender Identity Disorder.”
While today’s victory is good news, there’s still more battles to be fought: In many states, inmates are housed by their birth gender, regardless of their current gender identity. Even transgender women with breasts can be housed with men, leaving them vulnerable to violence and sexual assault.