The U.S. Department of Justice has weighed in on the case of a transgender woman incarcerated in Georgia by underscoring the unconstitutionality of policies that deny medically necessary treatment.
The case concerns 36-year-old Ashley Diamond, who had been receiving hormone therapy for 17 years until her incarceration in 2012. Because she was not identified by Georgia Department of Corrections staff as suffering from gender dysphoria at her intake and not referred for such treatment—despite subsequent recommendations by GDOC clinicians—she has been housed with male inmates. According to the suit filed in February 2015, she has suffered repeated sexual and physical assaults, in addition to physical harm and suffering, as a result of the lack of the hormone treatment.
Speaking from prison about the harm the lack of care has brought her, Diamond states in a video: "It is amazing how a minor brush with the law has turned into a death sentence. This is about more than just hormone treatment. This is about gross human rights violations. Three years of torture is enough."
In its statement of interest submitted on Friday, the Justice Department states:
The United States asserts that, under the facts alleged, Ms. Diamond will be successful in showing that she has thus far received a constitutionally inadequate level of medical care for her gender dysphoria, and that the policy preventing her from receiving more appropriate and individualized treatment – the “freeze - frame” policy – is facially unconstitutional.
"Prisoners with gender dysphoria should not be forced to suffer needlessly during their incarceration simply because they were not receiving care, or could not prove they were receiving care, in the community," stated Acting Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta of the Civil Rights Division.
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which filed the case against the Georgia Department of Corrections, welcomed the Justice Department's statement.
"The Department of Justice’s recognition today that the Georgia Department of Correction's freeze frame policy on gender dysphoria treatment is unconstitutional underscores what the Southern Poverty Law Center has been fighting for on Ashley Diamond’s behalf," Chinyere Ezie, SPLC's staff attorney, said in a statement released Friday.
"Transgender inmates like Ashley have a right to proper medical care. They have a right to protection from violence and abuse and these rights are secured by the U.S. Constitution," Ezie continued.
Diamond's treatment is far from unusual; a Bureau of Justice Statistics report (pdf) found that more than a third of transgender inmates suffered sexual violence. And a widely cited California study found that 59 percent of transgender inmates in that state reported being victims of sexual assault.
Expressing her pain to the New York Times, Diamond said, "Every day I struggle with trying to stay alive and not wanting to die. Sometimes I think being a martyr would be better than having to live with all this."
Watch the video below uploaded by SPLC to hear more from Diamond: