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Cautious Praise After Georgia Allows 'Medically Appropriate' Treatment for Transgender Inmates

After Justice Department intervention in case of Ashley Diamond, state approves hormone therapy

Ashley Diamond has been denied hormone therapy for the past three years, according to a lawsuit which has brought about new policy changes by Georgia state officials for transgender inmates. (Photo: Southern Poverty Law Center)

Days after the U.S. Justice Department intervened in the case of Georgia transgender inmate Ashley Diamond, who has been housed in a men's prison and denied hormone treatments since 2012, state officials announced a new policy Thursday approving "constitutionally appropriate medical and mental health treatment" for transgender inmates.

The policy change was approved Tuesday, officials said during a hearing on Diamond's case in Macon federal court.

Diamond filed a lawsuit against Georgia correctional officials in February over the state's "freeze-frame" policy, which prevents inmates from starting or expanding hormone treatment in prison—a rule which the Justice Department last Friday called "facially unconstitutional."

In response to the announcement, Diamond's legal team cautiously praised the policy change and emphasized its importance for transgender inmates.

"We are pleased to learn that the Georgia Department of Corrections has rescinded its prior, unconstitutional policy," said David Dinielli, deputy legal director of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which represents Diamond. "We currently are reviewing the new policy to make certain that it complies with constitutional requirements and that it will ensure improved care for Ashley Diamond and others in her circumstances, who are among the most vulnerable and targeted for abuse and mistreatment in our prison systems."

In her lawsuit against the prison, Diamond said that although she had been taking hormone treatments for the past 17 years, she was not identified as transgender during her 2012 intake with the Georgia Department of Corrections and was denied therapy in prison. Housed with violent male offenders, Diamond was routinely sexually and physically assaulted, in addition to the harm and suffering brought about by the lack of hormone treatment, her lawsuit stated.

The Justice Department intervened on Diamond's behalf last Friday. "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," the department wrote in a statement of interest.

Despite the policy change, Diamond's situation is far from resolved. Thursday's hearing, where Diamond was not present, was convened in order to address an emergency motion seeking her immediate transfer to a lower-level security prison, or to give her better protection at the Georgia State Prison where she is currently housed. That issue, the New York Times reports, was not settled Thursday:

At the nearly three-hour hearing, corrections officials referred to Ms. Diamond by male pronouns. In their legal filings, the defendants challenged the claim that she was sent to Georgia State a few weeks ago in retaliation for her lawsuit, denied her assertion that she had suffered repeated sexual abuse, harassment and attempted assault there, and said she had been offered but turned down protective custody.

A new date to hear testimony from Diamond has yet to be set.

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