Lusk v. Minnesota Department of Corrections: Dignity for Transgender People in Custody

Lusk v. Minnesota Department of Corrections:

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

“I am a strong, proud, transgender woman, and my name is Christina Lusk.”

Christina Lusk is a transgender woman who is currently in the custody of the Minnesota Department of Corrections (DOC). Socially, medically, and legally, she is recognized as female – including by the State of Minnesota. Despite this fact, the DOC treated Ms. Lusk as a man, going so far as to place her in the men’s facility at Moose Lake rather than the women’s facility at Shakopee. She was subject to ongoing harassment in the men’s facility, and denied access to gender-affirming health care. Staff refused to even acknowledge her name, Christina, instead forcing her to use the male name that she had legally changed years before.

“Transgender people disproportionately face abuse and harassment in state institutions like jails and prisons, schools and health care facilities,” said Gender Justice Legal Director Jess Braverman. “Every person in custody deserves to be protected from violence and harassment. We need and expect systems like the Department of Corrections to do better when it comes to protecting transgender and other vulnerable people in their custody.”

Gender Justice partnered with Rainbow Health in 2019 to represent Ms. Lusk in a discrimination charge at the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, but unfortunately, this alone did not resolve the problem. In June 2022, Gender Justice, joined by co-counsel Robins Kaplan LLP, filed a complaint against the DOC in Ramsey County District Court on behalf of Christina Lusk. The complaint argued that the DOC’s treatment of Ms. Lusk, and its discriminatory policies and practices toward transgender people in custody, violated the Minnesota Human Rights Act, as well as Ms. Lusk’s rights under the Minnesota Constitution to equal protection of the law, to bodily integrity, and to be free of cruel or unusual punishment.

Following a mediation in April 2023, the DOC agreed to make a number of changes intended to improve conditions for Ms. Lusk and many other incarcerated people. Under the settlement, Lusk would be moved to the women’s facility in Shakopee and be reconnected with gender-affirming health care and counseling. The DOC further agreed to strengthen and update several of its policies that will protect the basic rights, health and safety of any transgender people incarcerated in Minnesota. Among these changes, the DOC will abide by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health’s (WPATH) standards of care, contract with a WPATH certified health care provider, ensure its staff are trained on providing appropriate care for transgender people, and honor the name changes of incarcerated transgender people.

“Our resolution to this case was appropriate. I believe we have made a big step toward allowing people to express who they truly are, and bring some sort of peace and happiness to their lives. This journey has brought extreme challenges, and I have endured so much, but I relied on my faith, and I never gave up hope.”

“My hope is that nobody has to go through the same set of circumstances.”

It is unethical and unlawful to deprive incarcerated people of the care they need, simply because they are and transgender. Nonetheless, transgender people in custody are often not treated with basic dignity and respect. They are routinely denied access to the health care they need, whether it is gender-affirming counseling, hormone therapy or surgery, even when it is deemed medically necessary.

Christina Lusk demanded better. The DOC has a responsibility to protect the people in their care and custody, and she held them to it. And thanks to her, the fundamental rights, health and safety of transgender people incarcerated in Minnesota have stronger protections today.

Said Braverman, “Thanks to Christina Lusk’s willingness to speak out, transgender people in custody will now have expanded access to the housing and health care they need, and the legal protections they deserve.”

The complaint was filed on June 6, 2022 in Ramsey County District Court.

Read the complaint here

Robins Kaplan LLP

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