Georgia trans woman’s lawsuit against prison officials gets backing of feds, Elton John

Ashley Diamond, a trans woman from Rome, Georgia, and who performed as a drag queen in Atlanta, got a major backing of support in her federal lawsuit against the officials within the state Department of Corrections when the Justice Department said last week prohibiting her hormone treatment was unconstitutional.

“By taking action in this case, the Justice Department is reminding departments of corrections that prison officials have the obligation to assess and treat gender dysphoria just as they would any other medical or mental health condition,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta of the Civil Rights Division in a statement.

“Prisoners with gender dysphoria should not be forced to suffer needlessly during their incarceration simply because they were not receiving care, or could not prove they were receiving care, in the community. Freeze-frame policies can have serious consequences to the health and well-being of transgender prisoners, who are among the most vulnerable populations incarcerated in our nation’s prisons and jails,” Gupta said.

The DOJ statement in support of providing hormone treatment to transgender inmates is believed to be the first time the federal government has issued an opinion on providing necessary hormonal care as a necessary medical cost that states such as Georgia must provide, according to the New York Times.

Diamond also now has the support of openly gay celebrities Elton John, part-time Atlanta resident, and Michael Stipe, a native of Georgia and REM frontman, who are also demanding justice for all Diamond and all transgender inmates in Georgia.

“Transgender women in male prisons have an equal right to protection from violence and abuse in prison, and yet they continue to face horrific injustices,” they said in a joint statement.

Diamond, represented by the Southern Poverty Law Center, filed suit in February; she began serving time in 2012 on burglary charges. The SPLC says prison officials have denied Ashley Diamond the female hormones she had been receiving for the previous 17 years since she entered the prison three years ago for a nonviolent offense. The attorneys also claim prison officials have ignored please for Diamond’s safety and that she has been the victim of multiple sexual assaults by prisoners.

The Justice Department filed a brief April 3 stating “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.”

The New York Times took an in-depth look at Diamond’s case on April 4.

Key passages from the New York Times story:

• A first-time inmate at 33 whose major offense was burglary, Ms. Diamond was sent to a series of high-security lockups for violent male prisoners. She has been raped at least seven times by inmates, her lawsuit asserts, with a detailed accounting of each. She has been mocked by prison officials as a “he-she thing” and thrown into solitary confinement for “pretending to be a woman.” She has undergone drastic physical changes without hormones. And, in desperation, she has tried to castrate and to kill herself several times.

• Her lawyer, Chinyere Ezie of the Southern Poverty Law Center, said Ms. Diamond’s case dramatized the “discrimination to incarceration pipeline” that disproportionately lands transgender people, and especially those who are black like Ms. Diamond, behind bars.

• Shortly after Ms. Diamond entered the Georgia prison system in 2012, new federal standards under the Prison Rape Elimination Act established special protections for transgender inmates, recognizing them as an especially vulnerable group whose prison placement should be carefully considered and continually reviewed.

• Georgia itself committed to evaluate each inmate individually during intake to identify “risk factors associated with sexual assault,” and has declared zero tolerance for sexual assault and misconduct. In Ms. Diamond’s perception, however, “that is just words on paper.”

• Though she said she loudly declared herself a transgender woman during intake, she was assigned to a high-security prison for men, where within a month she was brutally attacked — punched, stomped, raped and knocked unconscious — by six gang members, the lawsuit says.

• Georgia’s policy, which the Justice Department says is unconstitutional, is to “freeze” treatment at current levels at entry into the system and deny “new” hormone therapy. It is unclear why, then, Ms. Diamond was denied treatment.

• For a period, Ms. Diamond was housed with nonviolent offenders and “ceased being a victim of sexual coercion or assault,” her lawsuit says. But when she renewed her push for hormone therapy, she says, she was told to develop better coping skills, placed in solitary confinement, and transferred back to a high-security prison.