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Federal government backs Ga. prisoner’s bid for state-funded gender surgery

The 55-year-old prisoner, suing as Jane Doe, claims the Georgia Department of Corrections has a ban on providing gender-affirming surgery to transgender inmates

Phillips State Prison

A transgender inmate at Phillips State Prison in Gwinnett County is suing the Georgia Department of Corrections over its alleged refusal to provide gender dysphoria treatment. The federal government has weighed in, saying gender-affirming surgery should be provided to the prisoner. (Jason Getz/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

Jason Getz/TNS

By Rosie Manins
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

ATLANTA — Georgia should pay for a transgender prisoner’s gender-affirming surgery, the federal government told an Atlanta judge overseeing the inmate’s civil rights lawsuit against the Georgia Department of Corrections.

U.S. Department of Justice officials, including the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, filed a statement of interest Monday in the case brought by an incarcerated transgender woman seeking medical treatment and other relief for her alleged severe gender dysphoria.

The federal government said the condition arises when a person experiences significant distress or impairment because of an incongruence between their gender identity and assigned sex.

The 55-year-old prisoner, suing as Jane Doe, claims the Georgia Department of Corrections has a ban on providing gender-affirming surgery to transgender inmates. She said that policy violates the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the federal Rehabilitation Act.

The federal government seems to agree. It said gender dysphoria doesn’t fall under the disability exclusions within federal law for “gender identity disorders not resulting from physical impairments” and “transsexualism.”

“People with gender dysphoria should be able to seek the full protections of the American with Disabilities Act, just like other people with disabilities,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the DOJ’s civil rights division said in a statement. “The U.S. Constitution requires that people incarcerated in jails and prisons receive necessary medical care, treatment and services to address serious medical conditions.”

Doe has been incarcerated in men’s facilities since 1992, according to her complaint, filed Dec. 6 in a Georgia federal court. The reason for her incarceration has not been disclosed by her attorneys.

“Ms. Doe’s conviction history is irrelevant to her case,” D. Dangaran, one of Doe’s attorneys, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We have filed under a pseudonym to protect Ms. Doe from potential retaliation, and her conviction history is identifying information.”

Dangaran said the federal government’s stance in Doe’s case is the most broad it has taken to date, and “affirms the common sense principle that prison administrators cannot use blanket bans to override the judgments of medical providers when it comes to individual patient care.”

A DOJ statement of interest in an unrelated case brought by another transgender Georgia prisoner against state corrections officials led to the Georgia corrections department rescinding its ban on providing hormone therapy, Dangaran said.

Since April 2022, Doe has been detained in Phillips State Prison in Gwinnett County, her 85-page lawsuit states. She said she was diagnosed with gender dysphoria in 2015 while at Johnson State Prison in middle Georgia, having identified as female since early childhood.

“(The Georgia Department of Corrections) has refused to treat Ms. Doe despite her severe and overwhelming gender dysphoria, which include two castration attempts, multiple suicide attempts, and almost daily self-harm,” the suit states. “GDC’s refusal to provide her with necessary care have worsened her gender dysphoria symptoms by feeding the thought that Ms. Doe might never be able to live in a body that looks like her gender identity.”

The department referred questions about the case and the federal government’s stance to the office of Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr, which is helping the department defend against Doe’s allegations. Carr’s office and the defense attorneys in the case did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In addition to the corrections department, Doe brought civil claims against its leaders and medical providers as well as prison staff.

Her request for gender dysphoria treatment was supported by the Georgia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed a brief in the case alleging “widespread failings in Georgia prisons.”

“Individuals in Georgia’s custody continue to suffer extensive abuse and maltreatment,” the ACLU of Georgia told the court. “Jane Doe’s experience is a grievous case in point.”

Doe alleged that Georgia prison officials have denied her hormone treatment and the ability to buy women’s commissary items, among other things, in addition to gender-affirming surgery, against the advice of state-appointed medical professionals. She said corrections department staff held her down and shaved her head bald when she grew out her hair.

Doe is also seeking transfer to a women’s facility, alleging decades of violent abuse while incarcerated in men’s prisons, at the hands of corrections officers and inmates alike, due to her transgender status. The corrections department’s answer to the abuse has been to place Doe in solitary confinement, she claimed.


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