CHICAGO -- Six women who are transgender have sued the Illinois Department of Corrections over the gross inadequacies in the medical treatment provided to prisoners with gender dysphoria. The lawsuit details the ways in which prisoners who are transgender suffer extreme harms due to the outright denial of care related to gender dysphoria, inordinate delays in the administration of care when it is provided at all, and systemic failure to follow prevailing medical standards for the treatment of this serious medical condition. Prisoners with gender dysphoria are suffering dangerous health outcomes and face the prospect of future serious harm including potential death. One plaintiff waited approximately three years after requesting treatment before her hormone therapy was initiated and the treatment only began after several attempts to treat herself by self-castration. Another plaintiff has been waiting for more than a year and continues to wait for medically necessary treatment. There is no medical reason for these excruciatingly painful and risky denials, delays, and other oversights in providing treatment to prisoners with gender dysphoria.

Even when prisoners are provided hormones, they are often prescribed the wrong type, given inadequate dosages, and inadequately monitored. Social transition and surgery – necessary treatments for some people with gender dysphoria – are also routinely denied for non-medical reasons and women who are transgender are placed in male prisons as a matter of course in contravention of medical recommendations and prevailing legal standards. In addition, transgender prisoners are treated by health care providers who do not have the expertise or training to properly treat gender dysphoria and are subjected to treatment management by a committee of people without the medical training or expertise to treat gender dysphoria. As a result, these women face extreme suffering from being denied the basic health care they need.

“The results of being denied hormone therapy for many months while I was in prison were excruciating for me,” said Tatyana Moaton, a community health educator in Chicago who was released from IDOC custody in 2016. Though not a plaintiff in the case, Ms. Moaton, like the plaintiffs in this case, was denied needed medical care during her incarceration. 

“I’d been living as a woman and taking hormones for many years prior to going into IDOC custody. I told IDOC medical staff that, but they refused to give me hormones and then gave me the wrong dosage. They also put me in a male prison and denied me women’s clothing and even a bra. As a result, I was depressed and contemplated suicide. I also experienced night sweats, pain and insomnia. I felt like my very being as a woman was being challenged; denying me the medical care I needed was torture for me,” added Ms. Moaton. 

Today’s lawsuit was filed on behalf of six women – Janiah Monroe, Marilyn Melendez, Ebony Stamps, Lydia Helena Vision, Sora Kuykendall and Sasha Reed – all held at IDOC facilities across the state. All of the women have been denied one or more medical treatments for gender dysphoria: appropriate hormone therapy, gender-affirming surgery, gender-appropriate clothing and/or other forms of medically necessary care to support social transition. The class action suit seeks to force IDOC to reform its medical care system to treat transgender prisoners more humanely and consistent with the well-established medical standards for treating gender dysphoria. 

“The way in which our clients are being treated is incomprehensible,” said John A. Knight, director of the LGBTQ & HIV Project at the ACLU of Illinois. “The courts have long recognized that gender dysphoria is a serious medical condition that must be promptly and appropriately treated. IDOC routinely flouts its constitutional obligations to provide transgender prisoners the medical treatment they need. The IDOC system of health care delivery to prisoners with gender dysphoria urgently cries out for reform. People are suffering and dying because of the devastating inadequacies in the delivery of health care to this vulnerable population.” 

The ACLU and its cooperating counsel hope that the State of Illinois will act quickly to resolve the lawsuit to ensure that all transgender prisoners with gender dysphoria are provided the necessary medical treatment they need. 

In addition to Mr. Knight and Ghirlandi Guidetti of the ACLU of Illinois, the plaintiffs are represented by Catherine L. Fitzpatrick, Jordan M. Heinz, Erica B. Zolner, Megan M. New and Scott Lerner of the Chicago office of Kirkland & Ellis LLP.  

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