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ACLU opens arguments for trans prisoners' healthcare rights
by Matt Simonette
2019-08-07

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ACLU of Illinois began arguments the week of July 30 for a federal injunction they say would improve healthcare conditions for transgender state prisoners.

According to a May lawsuit filed by five transgender Illinoisans, transgender state prisoners are subject to medical decisions made by ad hoc committees, not all of whom have core competencies or necessary training in transgender healthcare. As such, transgender prisoners cannot obtain gender dysphoria-related medical treatments save for hormone therapies, said plaintiffs. The suit was filed in East St. Louis, Illinois.

There are about 100 transgender persons in the Illinois prison system at any given time, according to John Knight of ACLU of Illinois.

In a July 24 press briefing at ACLU's downtown offices, organization officials, and additional attorneys and advocates, described conditions wherein transgender prisoners were routinely denied essential care as it pertains to gender dysphoria.

The lawsuit asks for an injunction that would require reforms to the standards of medical care, and would seeks certification of a class of all transgender persons seeking care for gender dysphoria.

Knight, who is director of ACLU's LGBT & HIV Project, said that Illinois Department of Corrections ( IDOC ) determines to whom it doles out services by committee; those committee members, he added, quite often have no core competency, or even basic knowledge, about transgender health.

IDOC rarely provides transgender health services beyond hormone therapy, and that's only after the prisoners must wait years for their treatment to begin. Quite often, added Randi Etner, MD, a specialist in transgender healthcare, those hormones are misdiagnosed at dangerous levels.

Knight suggested that committee determinations are fraught with inaccuracies and catch-22s. IDOC officials, for example, frequently say that prisoners must address "trauma" before initiating hormone therapy. Most experts would agree, however, that untreated gender dysphoria and being in incarceration would indeed be a source of trauma.

Strawberry Hampton, a recently incarcerated transgender woman who successfully lobbied to be transferred into an all-female facility—and who is one of the five persons represented in the suit—also attended the July 24 briefing.

Hampton said that she was subjected to treatment in prison that left her feeling "embarrassed, degraded and dehumanized" during her time in prison.

"It was a disgrace to be transgender" in prison, Hampton said. "Every day you were in there, you were fighting for your life."

"It has been a struggle to get IDOC to see it as an issue they should focus on," Knight added.


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