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.