Federal Court Favors Transgender Inmates

By Michelle Garcia

Originally published on Advocate.com August 08 2011 1:40 PM ET

A federal court in Wisconsin Friday overturned a state law barring access to hormone therapy for transgender inmates.

Three transgender women inmates, each diagnosed with gender identity disorder, challenged the law in 2006. The law was initially passed in 2005 after another inmate who had been receiving hormone therapy for years was told the Wisconsin Department of Corrections would not pay for gender-reassignment surgery. That inmate is unrelated to the three who filed the case.

A lower court ordered an injunction to allow transgender inmates to continue hormone treatment until a ruling was made, according to the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal, which represented the plaintiffs. In April 2010 a federal district court overturned the Inmate Sex Change Prevention Act, as it was named by the state legislature.

The appeals court upheld the earlier decision Friday, writing, “Surely, had the Wisconsin legislature passed a law that DOC inmates with cancer must be treated only with therapy and pain killers, this court would have no trouble concluding that the law was unconstitutional. Refusing to provide effective treatment for a serious medical condition serves no valid penological purpose and amounts to torture.”

John Knight, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project, said the 2006 law was discriminatory because it singled out transgender people and denied them medical care.

Dru Levasseur, Lambda Legal’s transgender rights attorney, said, “The court correctly ruled that denying prisoners medical treatment constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. The medical needs of transgender people don’t disappear once they enter prison. We’re glad that the court has ruled that the legislature cannot outlaw the only effective treatment for some people with gender identity disorder.”