The ACLU of Illinois represents five women who are transgender in a case challenging the gross inadequacies in the medical care offered to prisoners with gender dysphoria by the Illinois Department of Corrections. These women have experienced denials of basic medical treatment, inordinate delays in receiving even minimal care, and care that completely fails to meet applicable medical standards. These grave problems cause serious harm and suffering and raise the real prospects of even more dangerous health outcomes for transgender prisoners, including death. One plaintiff waited approximately three years after requesting treatment before her hormone therapy was finally started, but only after several attempts to treat herself by self-castration. Another has been waiting for more than a year and continues to wait. There is no medical reason for such excruciatingly painful and risky denials, delays, and other missteps in providing treatment to prisoners with gender dysphoria.
The lawsuit filed on behalf of five women – Janiah Monroe, Marilyn Melendez, Lydia Helena Vision, Sora Kuykendall, and Sasha Reed – and seeks class certification on behalf of all prisoners in the custody of IDOC who have requested from IDOC evaluation or treatment for gender dysphoria. The case seeks to force IDOC to reform its medical care system to put an end to the suffering it is currently causing transgender prisoners with gender dysphoria by denying them the medical care they need on a timely basis and consistent with the well-established medical standards.
In December 2019, a federal district court granted our clients a preliminary injunction, ordering the Illinois Department of Corrections overhaul the way it provides medical care to prisoners who are transgender and have gender dysphoria. Most importantly, the court ordered IDOC to change its current practice of using a committee of non-experts to make decisions about medical care for transgender prisoners. IDOC must now provide transgender prisoners access to clinicians qualified to treat gender dysphoria, as well as provide basic health care including hormones and allow prisoners access to items that facilitate social transition. The State must submit a plan by late January 2020 about how they will comply with the court’s order.
In March 2020, the court granted our request to certify a class of transgender individuals in IDOC custody making it possible for us to seek lasting relief for the hundred or more transgender people who are in state custody at any one time and who are currently being denied adequate medical care.
In August 2020, we asked the Court to appoint an independent monitor to help make sure that IDOC makes the changes it was order to make back in December 2019. The filing followed sworn testimony from IDOC officials who revealed that the Department was not meaningfully complying with the court’s Preliminary Injunction order, causing ongoing harm to our clients. An independent monitor is necessary because IDOC has shown that it is unable to comply with the Court’s order without independent oversight and guidance.