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Thursday, May 15, 2014

Transgender Woman Sues Prison Over Denial of HRT

Ashley Diamond, a trandgender inmate who had received hormone therapy for 19 years prior to her incarceration has been denied treatments since entering the Georgia Prison system. This denial of treatment violates both Georgia state and Federal laws.

In 2009, Diamond was convicted of burglary and placed under probation.  After violating the terms of her probation she was sent to prison.  When she entered prison, she was denied access to her hormone therapy. This has caused her body to change shape, her facial hair to grow and her voice to deepen. In November of 2013, she filed a lawsuit stating that she is suffering from depression and chronic anziety and has contemplated suicide due to her forced removal from her medication.

Diamond is has been quoted saying:  "No one would deny a diabetic prisoner insulin. No one would sentence a person to a gender change.  But because I am transgender, I am denied basic medical care and forced to change gender. Nobody should be sentenced to torture like this."

Since her case was featured in HuffPost, it has been causing some commotion through social media, and no doubt off line as well with well meaning - and sometimes rather close minded - individuals weighting in on both sides.  In similar courses the courts have ALWAYS sided with the transgender individuals and have continually struck down bans on HRT, pointing to the Eighth Amendment as their reason. However, this seems to be a lose-lose argument with strong opinions everywhere.

Personally, I find myself torn on this issue and have a difficult time expressing exactly where I stand. I do feel this woman has been mistreated. At the same time I have issue with prisoners having free access to non-vital medical care when law-abiding and free citizens do not. In short I suppose that is my standpoint - I would love to see inmates have access to whatever healthcare they need, but since it's my tax dollars paying for that healthcare, I would rather see it go to those non-criminals who need it first. I find the notion that solid healthcare, job training and often college educations are freely available to inmates, but the average young adult doesn't have that same guarantee.

But that's not the whole issue here. A further issue exists in how this woman was removed from her hormone therapy - cold turkey.  No, I'm not completely on board with the idea of inmates having access to medication and healthcare that the average person doesn't have, but removing someone from medicinal therapy of any kind is not only "cruel and unusual" it's dangerous.  Forcing someone to discontinue a long term medical treatment in this manner can lead to heart attack, renal failure, encephalitis and numerous other extremely dangerous medical conditions. And this isn't just for those on HRT or other long term medical treatments, it goes equally for those with heroin or pill addictions and even some alcoholics.  Once the body becomes dependent on a medication or drug of any kind, removing that substance cold turkey is simply irresponsible, especially if it's done without any kind of medical monitoring. Why no one is screaming about that is beyond me.

The second issue that's bothering me is that this woman is being housed in a male facility.  If anything were "cruel and unusual" it's that. Now, I can understand the argument that housing her in a female facility would be "immoral" or "dangerous," I mean if you were to suggest housing a male in a female prison the whole country - liberal and conservative - would be up in arms. But the fact is that this woman IS a woman. Although I do not believe she has had gender reassignment completed, she has been treated with hormones and lived as a woman for 19 years.  Housing her with men is as equally dangerous as housing a natural born woman with them - maybe more so.

But back to the issue of hormone therapy being denied.  Like I said, I'm rather torn.  I'm a firm believer that until the law abiding citizens of this country have open access to healthcare, we shouldn't be handing it out to criminals.  No, I'm not saying we should deny insulin to diabetics, but I do believe that anything beyond basic and/or life sustaining medical care should be denied, and in this case, that would include this woman's hormone therapy.

It's not that I don't understand why she's on the therapy, I do. And I fully support her in that choice. But unlike vital medicine, hormone therapy is a choice and she can, has and is, living without her therapy.  I am certain it causes her pain and stress, but I suppose I feel in some way that that is prison life. It's not meant to be pleasant.

Once, and if, the healthcare system changes to allow law abiding citizens access to healthcare they can afford, then possibly I will change my opinion on that issue. But so long as there continue to be more than a Million people in this country who are hard working and law abiding and still unable to access the healthcare they need - medical, dental, eye care, surgery, medications, etc - I just can't fully get on board with the idea that inmates -- people our society has deemed unsuited or unsafe for life among the general population due to their criminal activities -- having free access to them on my dime.

I fully understand that what this prison is doing is illegal, and yes, it bothers me that government prison systems are so quick to ignore the laws of the same government that pays it's bills.  But the fact is, prisons in this country need a full overhaul - as most things do. As it stands now, I have a really hard time finding to much sympathy for criminals when innocent individuals are going without roofs, clothing, food and medicine every day. I feel as if we've created a world where it's sometimes more beneficial to be a criminal than it is to be an honest, hard working person! And that's something I take issue with greatly!

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