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bhetzler / Byron Hetzler, The Southern 

Harrisburg's Karsyn Davis (22) and Murphsboro's Madison LaBranche (21) go after a loose ball on Monday in Murphysboro.

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ACLU sues Illinois Department of Corrections on behalf of 6 transgender inmates

BENTON — The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois on Wednesday filed a lawsuit in federal court on behalf of six transgender inmates against the Illinois Department of Corrections for what it says is systematic mistreatment of inmates with gender dysphoria.

The primary complaint lodged in the class action suit centers around improper medical treatment of inmates.

“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,” a news release from the ACLU says.

The complaint defines gender dysphoria as “the condition marked by clinically significant ‘distress that may accompany the incongruence between one’s experienced or expressed gender and one’s assigned gender.’” The complaint also states that it is recognized as a serious medical condition by the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association, among others. It also states that treatment for gender dysphoria often consists of social transition, hormone therapy and surgery, and is medically necessary for many transgender people.

Named as the defendants in the suit are Bruce Rauner in his capacity as governor, John R. Baldwin as director of IDOC, Dr. Steve Meeks as the chief of health Services for IDOC, and Dr. Melvin Hinton as the statewide mental health Supervisor for IDOC.

Janiah Monroe, Marilyn Melendez, Ebony Stamps, Lydia Heléna Vision, Sora Kuykendall, and Sasha Reed, all transgender IDOC inmates, are named as the plaintiffs in the suit. The complaint provides some of their personal narratives.

According to the complaint, Monroe entered IDOC at 16 years old and has identified as a woman since she was a young girl. The release states that Monroe “has been evaluated by multiple health professionals who repeatedly reconfirmed her diagnosis of gender dysphoria and recommended that she begin hormone therapy.”

It is also detailed that Monroe experienced increased distress. She launched a hunger strike and even “made several attempts at self-castration, after which in some instances she removed the sutures from the wounds and refused antibiotics with the hope that her genitalia would need to be amputated as a result of infection.”

Even after being allowed to take hormone treatment drugs, Monroe was not given the proper dosages and was not given access to other materials to proceed with her transition.

Stamps has struggled to receive treatment for her gender dysmorphia since a young age, according to the complaint. She was a ward of the state as a teenager and was not initially permitted by DCFS to begin her transition. However, after a time she was granted hormone therapy and allowed access to other transitional items.

After entering the Chicago Jail in 2013, Stamps was given hormone therapy and after entering IDOC later that year received hormone therapy, but after a long delay. The complaint states that after entering Hill Correctional Center, “officials kept her in orientation and out of general population because she was taking hormones.” According to the document, inmates are usually not kept in orientation for more than a few weeks.

“However, Ebony was kept there for much longer, and during this time was denied a cellmate and denied opportunities to interact with the rest of the prison’s general population. When Ebony asked why she was being kept in isolation, a prison official informed her that as long as she was on hormones, she would be kept in orientation and isolated,” the document states.

Tatyana Moaton knows these stories well — she said in an interview Wednesday she has many that are similar.

Moaton has identified as a woman since she was 4 years old, and had been taking hormone therapy for about 20 years when she entered IDOC in 2013.

“I was pretty much told that that would not be continued and from the person who did the intake, the providers there, pretty much said that they were not comfortable prescribing me the hormones,” Moaton said. She stayed for just around two-and-a-half years in prison and said it took her nearly nine months to begin getting hormone therapy.

Meanwhile, her body began changing, reverting back to the way it was before she began therapy.

“I was constantly in pain,” she said. Moaton also said as she saw her body begin to shift and hurt, her mind was drifting to bad places as well.

“The mental part of that was that I endured a lot of depression, like deep, dark depression,” she said.

Like Monroe, even after Moaton was granted hormone therapy, it was not the proper dosage. It didn’t seem fair, she said.

“I felt like it was some sort of punishment for me,” she said.

Moaton said the process shouldn’t be this hard.

John A. Knight agrees.

Knight, director of the LGBTQ & HIV Project at the ACLU of Illinois, said IDOC is woefully behind the times in its treatment of its transgender inmates.

“Their identity as women is, in some sense, being challenged and rejected from the very beginning by being routinely placed in male facilities with all the problems that that creates for these women and then being denied medical treatment and certain kind of treatment at all,” Knight said.

Knight said regardless of what a person did to become incarcerated, inmates have a right to proper medical care.

“The reality is regardless of why these women are imprisoned, we have a human obligation to provide them with the medical care they need and to keep them safe,” he said.

The complaint lists states like New York and California as places that are at least on the right track, though Knight pointed out that they are far from perfect. But, he said, they are just better at understanding the need for providing a full range of treatments.

“Here we are simply entirely denying certain kinds of treatment and we are routinely placing women in male facilities and there are whole range of problems that come with that,” he said, describing the system as "inhumane."

While the women in the suit are seeking damages, Knight said the ACLU is hoping for a much larger outcome.

“The best decision would be the systemic reform of the way the department of corrections delivers medical care and treats these women and that would involve review of the system by experts in the treatment of gender dysphoria,” Knight said.

If this were to happen, Moaton said she would be “ecstatic.” She said she is hopeful the other transgender women will get the justice she thinks they deserve.

breaking developing
Three dead in early morning Harrisburg fire

HARRISBURG — Three are dead after an early Wednesday morning fire on Pacific Street in Harrisburg, a Harrisburg Fire Department representative said.

Firefighter Thomas Frey said the fire call came in around 1:45 a.m. for three people trapped in the two-story, single family wood structure.

Harrisburg Fire Chief John Gunning said a mother and two daughters were the deceased, but couldn't release further details. 

Frey nor Gunning would not say if the fire was suspicious, but Frey did say "multiple investigations" were going on at this time.

Gunning said while they have not established firmly where the fire started, he did say that the northeast corner of the house had flames coming through it when crews arrived on the scene.

breaking featured
Illinois State of the State Address
State of the State: Gov. Rauner urges unity ahead of divisive election

SPRINGFIELD — Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner urged bipartisanship Wednesday to confront Illinois' economic crisis, at times drawing mock applause from Democratic legislators who blame him for exacerbating the mess by proposing tax cuts they say the state can't afford.

Rauner used his fourth State of the State speech to call for an end to the rancor that has defined his first term, yet the political undertones were obvious. The former venture capitalist faces a tough fight in November to keep the job leading the heavily Democratic state, even if he fends off a GOP primary challenge in March.

"The state of our state today is one of readiness," Rauner said. "Readiness born of unprecedented frustration with our political culture, along with the firm belief that we have tremendous, but as-yet unrealized, economic potential."

The Republican's term has been marked by a budget battle with a budget stalemate that lasted two years, the longest any state has gone without an annual spending plan since at least the Great Depression. Rauner did not get the pro-business changes he wanted, but Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan picked up enough House Republicans to override Rauner's veto of an income-tax increase last summer to fuel an end to the impasse. Illinois still has billions of dollars in overdue bills and the nation's worst credit rating.

"For all of us who have listened to him for three years, we're waiting for him to show some action," said Rep. Jeanne Ives, a Wheaton Republican who is challenging Rauner in the primary. "But I don't think it helps that he's called legislators in the past corrupt, he's called Mike Madigan a 'crook,' and now he wants to strike a bipartisan tone."

In encouraging bipartisanship, Rauner pointed out Democrats and Republicans worked together to make Chicago's bid for Amazon's second headquarters and could do so again for future projects.

"This is not a prize one wins alone. It takes a collaborative effort, a forget-about-the-politics-and-roll-up-our-sleeves kind of approach," Rauner said. "It requires a laser-like focus on economic development and job creation and a bipartisan dedication to restore public trust."

In calling for a balanced budget, he declared "the people of Illinois are taxed out." One of his leading challengers responded that Rauner was the wrong messenger.

"He's never introduced a balanced budget in the three years that he's been governor and he suggests now he's going to and he wants bipartisanship?" said J.B. Pritzker, the Chicago businessman who is running for governor as a Democrat. "This is a failed governor trying to make up for three lost years."

Rauner maintains he has introduced balanced budgets. But in 2015, it depended on pension-program changes that never occurred, and last year, a balanced bottom line was contingent on a Senate compromise that never materialized.

He also called Wednesday for the state to "curb our spending and work together to give people the capital they need to build and grow." He earlier said he would roll back the income tax hike over several years but hasn't explained how he'd make up the shortfall in revenue as the state remains billions in debt.

The speech had the support from Senate Republican Leader Bill Brady of Bloomington.

"Gov. Rauner reached out to both sides of the political divide in an effort to move Illinois in the right direction," Brady said. "By working in a bipartisan manner, we need to pass a truly balanced budget, as well as provide meaningful property tax relief, both of which will help grow our economy and create jobs."

Rauner also promised a crackdown on sexual harassment before an audience overwhelmingly clad in black in solidarity with the #MeToo movement, capitalizing on the issue as one "where we agree."

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Local reps, senators sound off on Rauner's State of the State address

CARBONDALE — After Gov. Bruce Rauner’s State of the State address in Springfield Wednesday, local legislators sounded off about their thoughts on the speech.

State Rep. Terri Bryant, R-Murphysboro, said she was glad to hear the governor’s optimistic tone.


“The governor rightly pointed out that Illinois is the home of past presidents of the United States, innovators, inventors, builders, artists, athletes, and brave service men and women,” she said in a statement. “It is clear that we must once again tap into the great potential of the people of Illinois to change the direction of the state.”

She said the governor offered strong arguments for why the state needs to enact policies to grow the economy.

“We need to unleash the potential of the private sector in our state,” she said. “We simply must grow more good paying jobs in Illinois or our state will continue to lag behind our neighbors.”

Bryant said the political culture must also change in Springfield, and agreed with Rauner that there must be term limits for legislators and fair legislative maps. 

“I agree with both of these concepts and believe that real political reform can be the first step to signal to job creators that we are serious in Illinois about providing incentives to locate here and that we are working to stamp out the corrupt politics of the past,” she said.


State Rep. Dave Severin, R-Marion, also said the state should follow the governor’s upbeat and positive tone.

“That is what we need to be about in the state of Illinois is being upbeat and being realistic and it’s time to get the job and today is the day we can start doing that,” he said. “The opportunity is here, what are going to do with it.”

He said he’s working on legislation to help bring people back into the state, while increasing the income of those living here.

“The bottom line is we don’t need more taxes, we need more taxpayers,” he said. “The opportunities are there and there is light at the end of the tunnel, we just have to make sure we go toward that light.”

Phelps Finnie

State Rep. Natalie Phelps Finnie, D-Elizabethtown, said she’s hopeful Rauner will follow through on a balanced budget, but also skeptical because she has seen the devastation that the lack of a budget has caused in Southern Illinois.

“I’m willing to work with anybody, but I am not about political grandstanding and nonsense,” she said. “I don’t have time for it.”

She added that it is “ridiculous the state is in the situation it is and it is time for hard work and real compromises from everybody."


State Sen. Dale Fowler, R-Harrisburg, said there’s no question the state is facing many challenges and the people of this state deserve better.

“Illinois’s problems are especially frustrating as Illinois has so much to offer,” he said. “I see the potential and possibilities firsthand in my district with businesses that want to grow and develop, students who hope to pursue their degrees in their home state and hardworking community members who want to continue to call Illinois home.”

Fowler said the state has the potential to thrive, but reforms and structural changes are needed to make the state competitive.

“We have to pave the way to allow Illinois to move forward and that starts with working together,” he said.

Paul Schimpf

State Sen. Paul Schimpf, R-Waterloo, said he was encouraged to hear Rauner lay out a positive vision for the state.

“He did a great job reminding us we possess the talent and resources to overcome our challenges if we work together in a bipartisan fashion,” Schimpf said.

He said there is still more work to be done in Springfield to jumpstart the state’s economy and get on track to creating jobs and reforming policy.

“The governor correctly noted that last year's tax increase did not solve the root problem facing Illinois. Simply put, job creators don’t want to come to our state,” Schimpf said. “In order to achieve long-term economic stability, we need the economic growth that comes from businesses choosing to hire people who live in our state.”