Dignity for Transgender People in Custody

Dignity for Transgender People in Custody

“Every person in custody deserves to be protected from violence and harassment. We need our systems to do better now to protect all vulnerable groups, including transgender people.”
- Jess Braverman, Legal Director

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Transgender people in state custody are especially vulnerable to discrimination, harassment, and violence. By mistreating transgender people in custody, the state not only harms them, but effectively puts a target on their backs inviting others to harm them as well.

Gender Justice works to ensure that all people have a meaningful right to bodily autonomy, safety, health, and opportunity.

“Transgender people disproportionately face abuse and harassment in state institutions including jails and prisons, schools, healthcare facilities, and more,” said Jess Braverman, Legal Director at Gender Justice. “Every person in custody deserves to be protected from violence and harassment. We need our systems, such as the Department of Corrections, to do better to protect all vulnerable groups, including transgender people.”

That’s why Gender Justice along with co-counsel Robins Kaplan LLP, have filed a complaint on behalf of our client, Christina Lusk, against the Minnesota Department of Corrections (DOC). The treatment of our client, and the discriminatory policies and practices of the DOC, are in violation of the Minnesota Human Rights Act, as well as our client’s rights under the Minnesota Constitution to equal protection of the law, to bodily integrity, and to be free of cruel or unusual punishment. Gender Justice had partnered with Rainbow Health to represent Ms. Lusk with a discrimination charge at the Minnesota Department of Human Rights prior to filing this complaint in court.

Christina Lusk is a transgender woman who is currently in the custody of the DOC. She is recognized socially, medically, and legally as female – including by the State of Minnesota. Yet, the Minnesota DOC treats Ms. Lusk as a man, simply because she is transgender. The DOC has placed Ms. Lusk at Moose Lake, a men’s facility, rather than at the women’s facility, Shakopee, because she is transgender.

The state has a responsibility to protect the people in their care and custody. People who are incarcerated have a right to be treated with dignity and respect.

During her time with the DOC, the agency has not only placed Ms. Lusk with men subjecting her to discrimination and harassment, but for months refused to acknowledge her legal name, Christina Lusk, instead forcing her to use a male name that Ms. Lusk had legally changed and has not used in years.

Transgender people in custody, including our client, are also routinely denied access to competent medical care, which includes hormone therapy and gender affirming surgery, even when medically necessary. Gender-affirming healthcare is life-saving healthcare. People in custody and government facilities deserve access to the medical care they would receive in the community. Ms. Lusk has been denied competent medical care while in the DOC because she is transgender. In spite of her documented medical need, the DOC arbitrarily deferred Ms. Lusk’s gender-affirming surgery until after her release.

It is unethical and unlawful to deprive people of the care they need, simply because they are incarcerated and transgender.

Denial of healthcare, failure to house transgender people in the appropriate facilities, and misgendering transgender people in state custody is dehumanizing and degrading. We demand more of our government and public services.

The complaint was filed in Ramsey County District Court, Second Judicial District. The complaint can be found here.

FALL 2022 UPDATE:

In September, Gender Justice filed this response to the Department of Correction’s motion to dismiss.

Co-Counsel:
Robins Kaplan LLP

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