|NCLR Legal Director Shannon Minter. Photo by Jan Watson.
In a groundbreaking decision, a federal district court judge ruled on July 30 that the Idaho Department of Corrections must provide female hormone therapy to a transgender inmate while her case proceeds to trial in federal court in Boise, Idaho. Jenniffer Spencer sued the Idaho Department of Corrections for failing to diagnose or treat her gender identity disorder - the current medical diagnosis applied to transsexual people. Gender identity disorder is a conflict between a personâs physical sex and the personâs psychological identity as male or female.
Despite Spencerâs repeated requests for treatment for her condition - 75 in total, according to the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) - the department refused. Spencer attempted suicide when she learned that prison doctors would not provide any treatment for her gender identity disorder. Subsequently, according to NCLR, she performed her own castration using a disposable razor blade in her prison cell, nearly bleeding to death in the process.
After Spencer removed her own testicles, the department continued to deny treatment for her gender identity disorder. Instead, the department prescribed male hormone therapy, which Spencer refused.
On Friday, July 27, Judge Mikel Williams of the Federal District Court for the District of Idaho ruled that, based on extensive expert medical testimony, Spencer is entitled to receive female hormone therapy while her case is being decided. Judge Williams held that âgender identity disorder, left untreated, is a life-threatening mental health condition.â Judge Williams found the prisonâs offer of testosterone was âmedically unacceptableâ and posed âan excessive riskâ to Spencerâs health. âIn light of Plaintiffâs significant mental health issues and the lack of comprehensive and meaningful re-evaluation of Plaintiff after his self-castration,â Judge Williams stated, âthe âchoiceâ offered to Plaintiff is really no choice at all.â
âWe are gratified that the court acknowledged that the State of Idahoâs refusal to appropriately treat transgender persons is unacceptable,â said James Schurz of Morrison & Foerster, one of the attorneys representing Spencer. âJudge Williamsâ decision ensures that Jenniffer will receive adequate and appropriate medical care.â
Spencer is represented by NCLR, Morrison & Foerster LLP, and Sheryl Musgrove.
Spencer, who legally changed her name earlier this year, is serving a 10-year sentence for possession of a stolen car and a failed escape attempt that occurred when she was a teenager. She is now 27 years old.
âThis ruling is significant because it sends such a clear message that prison officials must provide appropriate medical care for transgender inmates,â NCLR Legal Director Shannon Minter told Bay Times. He said courts have let prison doctors get away with âoutrageously harmful and inappropriate treatments,â such as offering testosterone to a male-to-female transgender woman. âJudge Williams recognized that it is not enough for officials to provide clearly sub-standard and dehumanizing care. Instead, they must treat transgender inmates with dignity and respect, and follow the recommended medical guidelines for this condition.â