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Transgender Activists Celebrate Huge Federal Prison Victory

Transgender Activists Celebrate Huge Federal Prison Victory


A lawsuit by a former Federal Bureau of Prisons inmate resulted in a settlement that will dramatically change how the feds deal with transgender prisoners. A settlement was announced today in the case of Vanessa Adams, an inmate at the Butner Federal Correctional Complex, in Butner, North Carolina. Adams, who was diagnosed with gender identity disorder while at a Florida prison, filed suit on February 24, 2009, after she was denied medically necessary hormone therapy and prevented from otherwise expressing a female gender identity because she had not received this treatment prior to her incarceration.

The lawsuit was settled, in part, with the Bureau of Prisons ending its so-called "freeze frame" policy in which treatment for any person with GID -- the standard diagnostic label that trans individuals need to get care -- is kept frozen at the level provided at the time he or she entered the federal prison system.

"BOP's freeze frame policy trapped transgender prisoners in despair, leading often to depression, suicide attempts, and in many cases, serious self-harm, as was the case with Vanessa," said Jennifer L. Levi, Transgender Rights Project Director for Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders.
In Adams' case, she had not received treatment for GID before being incarcerated, so the BOP refused to provide her with medically necessary care even though its own doctors diagnosed her with GID, told her about treatments options for GID, and recognized the seriousness of her medical condition.

"We applaud the BOP for getting rid of an unfair policy that has denied medically necessary care to many people. We hope that other state and county prison systems will follow BOP's lead and eliminate discriminatory policies that are based on bias rather than medical need," said Jody Marksamer, a staff attorney at the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

The BOP's resulting memorandum, which was sent to all federal prison cheifs, all individuals in the prison system who have been diagnosed with GID, as well as to the medical staff treating these prisoners, instructed that "inmates in the custody of the Bureau with a possible diagnosis of GID will receive a current individualized assessment and evaluation. Treatment options will not be precluded solely due to level of services received, or lack of services, prior to incarceration...current, accepted standards of care will be used as a reference for developing the treatment plan."

Citing BOP's consistently callous conduct toward Adams, the fact that BOP could stop her treatment at any time, and that BOP did not disavow its policy, Federal District Court Judge Joseph L. Tauro sent the case to mediation this summer, which eventually led to yesterday's settlement. Adams was represented by Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, Florida Institutional Legal Services, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Bingham McCutchen LLP, and Allyson Kurker.

Cassandra Capobianco of Florida Institutional Legal Services said, "It is critical not only for Vanessa's health and safety but for the good of other prisoners that BOP's policy has been changed."

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