Back in 2005 the Wisconsin legislature passed a draconian law nastily called the ‘Inmate Sex-Change Prevention Act’ that barred prison doctors from providing necessary transgender medical care such as hormone replacement therapy or sex reassignment surgery while in state custody.
The ACLU and Lambda Legal jointly filed a case in 2006 on behalf of several transgender inmates entitled Fields v Smith who were experiencing severe physical and psychological harm after the
medical treatment they had been receiving under prison doctors’ care was
abruptly cut off due to the new draconian law.
The U.S. District Court for
the Eastern District of Wisconsin then struck down the law as
unconstitutional based on both the Eighth Amendment (cruel and unusual
punishment) and on the Equal Protection Clause after a four day trial. The state
of Wisconsin appealed the ruling in 2010 and in August of last year, a unanimous three-judge panel of the U.S. District
Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit upheld the previous Lambda Legal court win,
stating: “Refusing to provide effective treatment for a serious medical
condition serves no valid penological purpose and amounts to torture.”
Of course, the state of Wisconsin tried one last ditch legal maneuver to overturn the two losses by appealing to the US Supreme Court, who refused to hear the case.
The Fields v. Smith win is not the only recent significant
victory for transgender people who are in the hands of the government
for medical care. Last year, the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) changed
its policy for treatment of transgender individuals in federal prisons
nationwide as part of a settlement in the Adams v. Federal Bureau of Prisons et al. case
filed by National Center for Lesbian Rights and Gay and Lesbian
Advocates and Defenders.
The new BOP policy allows federal prisoners
access to an evaluation by a doctor and treatment in accordance with the
internationally accepted Standards of Care issued by the World
Professional Association for Transgender Health.
this Adams v. Federal Bureau of Prisons et al case is groundbreaking because it established a new federal
standard for transgender prisoners. It’s also a standard that hopefully states across the country
will look to for guidance as they formulate their own policies in regards to trans prisoners.
So yeah, I can hear some of you non-incarcerated trans people saying what;’ the big deal about trans prisoners getting a legal win. Well, just because you’re incarcerated doesn’t mean you lose all your rights under the United States constitution. These wins also help the entire trans community get human rights coverage as well.
So thanks Lambda Legal not only for the work you put in toward in getting this legal win and getting this draconian Wisconsin law struck down, but for showing by example how to be a real trans ally..