Federal Court Rules That Transgender Inmates Have the Right to Medical Care

by Cara on April 2, 2010

in bigotry, courts, discrimination, human rights, legislation, LGBTQ, trans, transphobia and trans misogyny

Via Questioning Transphobia and Transgriot, some great news out of Wisconsin. A federal court has struck down a state law that denied hormone treatment to trans* people, despite its role as necessary care. The case was brought by the ACLU, Lamda Legal, and a group of incarcerated trans women who had been denied treatment. The judge ruled that the law violated the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

“It’s a victory for these inmates who have a condition that is misunderstood and vilified for political purposes that can be very serious,” Larry Dupuis, an ACLU lawyer who represented the plaintiffs, said Thursday. “To take away a whole class of treatment just because it’s politically disfavored is not constitutional.”

While similar prison policies in other states have been challenged successfully, the ACLU and Lambda Legal said the law was the only one of its kind in the nation that denied such medical care to transgender inmates.

Lawmakers who wrote the measure, declared unconstitutional and unenforceable Wednesday by U.S. District Judge Charles Clevert, reacted with outrage and urged Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen to appeal. They warned the decision would open the door for taxpayer-funded sex changes for inmates, which the law had also blocked.

“This ruling puts a higher priority on helping inmate Tommy become Tammy than protecting the pocketbooks of law-abiding citizens,” said Rep. Scott Suder, R-Abbotsford. “This is a travesty of justice that must be overturned.”

Clevert said the law violates the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment because it “results in the denial of hormone therapy without regard for the individual medical needs of inmates and the medical judgment of their health-care providers.” He added “there is no rational basis” for the law, which he said also violates their equal protection rights.

Clevert had issued a temporary order weeks after the law went into effect blocking prison officials from ending the therapy for inmates already receiving hormones during the lawsuit.

(By the way: the AP needs to read its own damn stylebook, as not only is “A group of male inmates who identify as female” totally not on, but as I’m also pretty sure that the incorrect pronoun has been used later in the story for an inmate who attempted to receive gender reassignment surgery.)

Of course, Wisconsin is far from the only state that has denied hormone treatment to trans* inmates. It’s actually a fairly routine practice, and stories of other basic care and necessities for trans* inmates being denied abound. But while certainly not going to halt the inhumane and repulsive practice overnight, it is truly great news that a federal court has ruled it unconstitutional.

The denial of such basic care is based firstly in the belief that prisoners are undeserving of human rights, and that those who have broken the law have not only given up their right to freedom, but also to health and safety. The popularity of this particular measure is based also in the fact that trans* people are perceived as not really deserving of human rights either, and the belief that health care that is specifically related to being trans* doesn’t actually count as health care. It comes from the cissupremacist belief that being trans* is some kind of fantasy, rather than a state of being as valid as any cis identity, and that being trans* is somehow optional or chosen, rather than something that simply is. Hormone treatment for those trans* folks who need it is seen as a luxury at best simply because cis folks don’t need it (at least not for the same reasons).

The fact that the judge in this case failed to strike down the part of the law that bans access to surgery at the same time as he ruled that access to hormone therapy is a right proves this point further, as do the lawmakers’ use of gender reassignment surgery as a boogeyman.  Through the lens of the beliefs listed above, providing more necessary medical care to those who need it is apparently some kind of terrifying threat. Understanding little other difference between hormone therapy and surgery in terms of their status as necessary care, it seems that one’s right to not endure cruel and unusual punishment is dependent on cost.

But while not enough to guarantee the right to all necessary medical care for trans* prisoners, and very far from enough to guarantee the rights of trans* prisoners overall, this ruling is a step forward, and a very important victory to the individual women who were involved in the lawsuit. It’s also a victory that was fought tooth and nail, and which the bigoted opposition is still dedicated to fight. A huge congratulations to all of those involved with the case, and all others who will be able to access their basic rights as a result of this ruling either now or in the future.

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