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Jim Dey’s recent column on a federal judge’s ordering the state of Illinois to provide essential health care to transgender prisoners shines light on one of the ways this state has failed to fulfill one of its basic responsibilities under the U.S. Constitution.

Nearly a decade ago, the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruled that the constitution’s prohibition on deliberate indifference to the medical needs of prisoners demands that the state provide transgender prisoners the medically necessary health care they need, such as hormone therapy and surgery.

Still, the state persisted in denying dozens and dozens of transgender prisoners the care they need, causing them unnecessary suffering. Things got so unbearable for one transgender prisoner that she took her own life.

What the judge’s order requires is basic: this state must abide by established medical standards in providing health care for transgender prisoners. It must put an end to its practice of delaying hormone therapy and allow prisoners the ability to socially transition.

The state must also end its practice of “mechanically” assigning housing based on “genitalia” and/or physical size and appearance. Finally, it must immediately cease its practice of allowing its “Transgender Committee” (made up of members none of whom have experience or expertise in treating transgender individuals’ gender dysphoria) to “make the medical decisions regarding gender dysphoria.”

The court ordered the state Department of Corrections to develop a plan for providing transgender prisoners medical care consistent with medical standards and required that health care providers making medical judgments about these prisoners meet the basic competency requirements established by the medical community. This is the type of care to which we are all entitled — informed and humane. And it is what our Constitution requires.


LGBTQ & HIV Project

ACLU of Illinois