Court rules for trans inmates

Louis Weisberg

A federal court struck down a Wisconsin law barring transgender inmates from receiving hormone therapy or sex-reassignment surgery.

While the court’s ruling does not mandate specific treatments, it empowers doctors – not lawmakers – to make medical decisions for transgender patients behind bars, said John Knight, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU LGBT Project.

The ruling came in a case filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal on behalf of transgender prisoners, some of whom had been receiving hormones in Wisconsin prisons for years prior to the passage of the 2006 law.

The lawsuit charged that preventing transgender inmates from access to individualized medical care violated the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection as well as the guarantee against cruel and unusual punishment. The legal groups based their challenge on federal case law that establishes healthcare providers must determine proper treatment for all prison inmates.

According to the ACLU and Lambda Legal, Wisconsin is the only state in the country to have enacted a law denying transgender people access to medical care while in state custody.