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N.C. trans woman’s lawsuit against state prison can proceed, judge says

She, and her lawyers with the ACLU, claim prison has failed to dispense Zayre-Brown’s prescribed hormones and has denied her request for surgical vaginoplasty

By Kallie Cox
The Charlotte Observer

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The case of a transgender woman in prison who is suing the state of North Carolina for gender-affirming medical care can proceed, a federal judge decided on Tuesday.

In April, Kanautica Zayre-Brown, who is being held at Anson Correctional Institution sued North Carolina’s Department of Public Safety. She, and her lawyers with the American Civil Liberties Union, claim the prison system department has failed to regularly dispense Zayre-Brown’s prescribed hormones and has denied her request for surgical vaginoplasty, a procedure to construct a vagina.

During Tuesday’s hearing, U.S. District Judge Max Cogburn rejected the state government’s motion to dismiss and said he intends to hear arguments in Zayre-Brown’s case. Cogburn also denied the ACLU’s motion for a preliminary injunction that would have allowed Zayre-Brown to have surgery and receive prescriptions.

The ACLU argues that Zayre-Brown has attempted to get treatment within the jail, been denied, and has gone through the grievance process twice. In an attempt to have the lawsuit dismissed, lawyers for the North Carolina Department of Public Safety argued she failed to exhaust every possible remedy before bringing the issue to court.

Cogburn said the case is important to deciding whether individuals who are in custody have a right to gender-affirming surgery and care.

In 2019 when she was moved to Anson Correctional, a female prison, Zayre-Brown became the first incarcerated transgender person transferred based on gender identity in North Carolina, according to NC Policy Watch.

Earlier this month, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes North Carolina, determined that gender dysphoria is covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act. This means transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals diagnosed with gender dysphoria are covered under the act. Gender dysphoria may occur when a person doesn’t identify with the gender they were assigned at birth, and they feel uncomfortable in their current body.

Zayre-Brown is scheduled to be released from prison in November 2024.