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Equality in the Courts: Denying Transgender Inmates Hormone Therapy Is Unconstitutional

A Wisconsin law forbidding transgender inmates from receiving hormone therapy was struck down by a federal judge on Wednesday.  The court concluded that the statute violated the U.S. Constitution’s Eighth Amendment prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment and Fourteenth Amendment guarantee of equal protection of the laws. The plaintiffs, three transgender women, were represented by Lambda Legal and the ACLU of Wisconsin.  Before the law was passed, the Wisconsin Department of Corrections diagnosed and treated inmates with gender identity disorder (GID).  Some of the plaintiffs had been prescribed hormones for years, but after the law was passed they were deprived of that therapy until the court stayed enforcement of the law.  As a result, at least one of the plaintiffs became ill during the weeks she was denied this physician-supervised treatment. The court held that the law required cruel and usual punishment, both in the case of the plaintiffs specifically and as a whole.  By disregarding the needs of the inmates and the advice given to them by their health care providers, the court concluded, the warden’s actions showed “deliberate indifference to the plaintiff’s serious medical needs”.  Because there was no rational reason to discriminate against the plaintiffs and others who need hormone therapy, the court also held that the law’s denial of medically-necessary treatment was an equal protection violation.  The Attorney General’s office is considering an appeal. We applaud the efforts of our colleagues at Lambda Legal and the ACLU, and the courage of the plaintiffs, in challenging this cruel and unjust law.

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