Cristina Nichole Iglesias has been denied critical medical care, raped, physically and sexually abused, and even held hostage during her time housed in federal corrections facilities for men. Ms. Iglesias’ victimization is a direct result of the federal Bureau of Prisons’ (BOP) refusal to recognize Ms. Iglesias as the woman she is and to provide her the health care and the security that she desperately needs. A copy of the complaint filed today can be found here.

Though assigned male at birth, Ms. Iglesias has known that she is female from a very young age. The BOP has recognized that Ms. Iglesias is a transgender woman and diagnosed her with gender dysphoria as far back as 1994 but has refused to provide her the basic medical care she needs and refused to move her to a women’s facility choosing instead to incarcerate her with men even in the face of escalating attacks and threats on her life.  

While the federal government has long been aware of the particular vulnerabilities that women who are transgender face in custody, the Trump administration rescinded policy guidance intended to protect transgender prisoners and put in place a rule that makes placement decisions based on a person’s assigned sex at birth. This approach reversed the progress that had been made in finally recognizing the authentic existence of women who are transgender and the risks they face when housing them in men’s facilities.

Correctional experts understand the high likelihood of sexual assault that transgender women face when held in facilities for men, which is why the regulations implementing the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) require prisons – including federal prisons – to make individualized placement decisions that take into account where each transgender person feels they would be safest. This individualized approach has been undermined by the Trump Administration’s change in BOP policy – a change that is only one part of a series of steps designed to roll back protections for LGBTQ people in the United States.  

In a filing this week in federal court for the Southern District of Illinois, Ms. Iglesias ask the court to order the BOP to provide her with essential treatment for gender dysphoria, consistent with well-recognized medical standards, and transfer her to a women’s prison as required by her treatment and to protect her safety.  

“Cristina has endured a nightmare during her time in the BOP,” said John Knight, Director of the LGBTQ & HIV Project for the ACLU of Illinois and one of the lawyers representing Ms. Iglesias. “She was denied basic hormone treatment for many years and is still being denied gender affirming surgery and related treatments. She has been denied transfer to a women’s prison even though keeping her housed with men has resulted in her being subjected to repeated incidents of sexual and physical abuse.” 

“Cristina has experienced severe emotional distress, including thoughts of suicide, as a result of being denied appropriate health care and secure housing. Her circumstances demand change.” 

The level of cruelty and abuse that Cristina has been subjected to are causing her significant harm and remain a threat to her survival. Every day Cristina is subjected to devastating comments from staff and other prisoners who call her a “bearded woman” and also continue to refer to her by male pronouns. Cristina has also been subjected to assaults because she is a transgender woman. Earlier this year, Ms. Iglesias was held hostage by her cell mate who objected to being housed with a transgender woman and would not release her until prison staff used force to make him do so. 

The complaint filed asks that Ms. Iglesias be evaluated by medical personnel qualified in the standards of care for someone with gender dysphoria, provided access to permanent hair removal and gender affirmation surgery and transferred to a women’s prison consistent with her identity.  

“Experts widely recognize that denying someone the health care they need for gender dysphoria causes transgender people serious and lasting harm. Likewise, housing a woman in a male corrections facility is an invitation to violence and harassment,” added Knight.  

“We urge the court to act swiftly to end this nightmare for Cristina.”      

In addition to Mr. Knight, Ms. Iglesias is represented by Taylor Brown of the National ACLU LGBT & HIV Project, and the Chicago office of Winston & Strawn.