Department of Justice supports gender-affirming medical care for trans inmates

On Friday, a landmark statement was issued by the Department of Justice (DoJ), which states that transgender inmates have a right to be treated for their gender dysphoria. The decision stems from a lawsuit filed by Ashley Diamond, a trans woman in Georgia. Since 2012, Diamond has been refused hormone therapy, which she had undergone for 17 years prior to being jailed, and housed with male inmates, ultimately leading to violence and multiple assaults.

Georgia already has a policy which allows for trans inmates to continue hormone therapy, only if they began treatment prior to their arrest. It does not allow trans people to begin hormone therapy while imprisoned. Diamond had long undergone hormone therapy, and openly announced her trans identity upon intake, but says officials neglected to acknowledge this on relevant forms, which made her ineligible to continue treatment. The policy in Georgia and many other states is known as a freeze-frame policy. The DoJ statement touched on the "unconstitutionality of freeze-frame policies," and says, "failure to provide individualized and appropriate medical care for inmates suffering from gender dysphoria violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment."

Furthermore, Ms. Diamond stipulates that her housing placements were often in retaliation to her demands for hormone therapy. In 2012, the DoJ issued a directive to aid in implementation of the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), which clarified standards for placing transgender inmates. Diamond was continually housed with violent offenders in high security men's prisons, leaving her vulnerable to numerous physical and sexual assaults. She is still being housed in an extremely dangerous prison, exposed to violence and harassment. One study found that 59% of surveyed trans women had been sexually assaulted while housed in male detention centers.

Ms. Diamond's plight has garnered a wave of media attention, even resulting in a front page story in the New York Times. She hopes to draw attention to the suffering many trans women face while incarcerated, with her lawyer, Chinyere Ezie, from the Southern Poverty Law Center, saying: "I wish I could say that this is a problem only affecting Ashley, but it's actually an issue of epidemic proportions across the country."

GLAAD's own, Tiq Milan, appeared on MSNBC to discuss the violent and unlawful treatment of Ms. Diamond. Applauding the federal recognition of trans identities and experiences, Milan called the refusal to treat Diamond "willful ignorance" from Georgia prison officials. He also highlighted the disproportionate discrimination that transgender people of color, and especially black transgender women, face. This discrimination leads to unemployment, poverty, criminalization, and incarceration. According to a report on the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, over 1 in 5 trans women had been incarcerated at some point, while nearly half (47%) of black trans women had been jailed.

As Milan said, looking at these cases from a medical standpoint, rather than as cosmetic issues or as "alternative lifestyle choices," is essential. Another inmate, this time a trans woman in California, has been awarded access to gender-affirming surgery. Both Diamond and Michelle-Lael Norsworthy, the Californian trans woman, had doctors determine that these medical treatments were necessary for their gender dysphoria. Hopefully these rulings will usher in change, allowing trans people in the justice system to access the care they need and deserve.

Watch Milan speak on MSNBC below: