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Utah’s prison system sued after treatment of trans inmate forced her to perform surgery on herself

A seal for the Department of Justice is seen on a podium ahead of a news conference with US Attorney General Merrick Garland at the Department of Justice Building on 21 March 2024 in Washington, DC (Getty Images)
A seal for the Department of Justice is seen on a podium ahead of a news conference with US Attorney General Merrick Garland at the Department of Justice Building on 21 March 2024 in Washington, DC (Getty Images)

A trans woman’s requests for healthcare went unanswered for so long while she was in a Utah prison that she was driven to perform surgery on herself, a lawsuit filed on Tuesday said.

The United States Department of Justice says it is suing the state of Utah and its Department of Corrections (UDOC) for discriminating against the woman because of her gender dysphoria.

The DOJ classifies that as a serious medical condition marked by “clinically significant distress”, due to a person’s conflict between the sex assigned to them at birth and their gender identity.

According to the lawsuit, the inmate was not given equal access to healthcare, despite repeated requests for hormone therapy, compared to other inmates.

A lack of changes to policies, including not allowing the woman to purchase female clothing at the commissary, severely affected her mental health, the DOJ said.

“Twenty-two months after entering custody, she performed dangerous self-surgery and removed her own testicles,” a press release read.

The woman required further hospital treatment and surgery, following the incident in May 2023.

The inmate had arrived at the UDOC facility in July 2021 and she made multiple requests for hormone therapy.

In June 2022, the DOJ says she was diagnosed with gender dysphoria following an assessment by a UDOC-contracted doctor, who said she was eligible for treatment.

Despite continued requests from the inmate, that treatment wasn’t provided until January 2023, seventeen months after she first asked.

The DOJ alleges that “when UDOC started the Complainant on hormone therapy it did not do so safely or effectively”, adding that access to this care came after a “biassed and unnecessarily prolonged approval process”.

According to the suit, the inmate had made several other requests for help under the Americans with Disabilities Act, as gender dysphoria is now covered by it.

However, the DOJ says most of these requests were denied by UDOC and the inmate’s mental health worsened, leading to multiple incidents of self-harm.

“People with gender dysphoria should be able to seek the full protections of the Americans with Disabilities Act, just like other people with disabilities,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said in a press release.

“We are committed to ensuring constitutional conditions inside our jails and prisons so that those detained inside these facilities, including people with gender dysphoria can live safely and receive needed medical care.”

Ms Clarke added that the US Constitution also requires that incarcerated persons get the medical care and treatment they need.

The DOJ is calling for UDOC to apply its general policy of “providing appropriate treatment and/or therapy” for all inmates, rather than having a separate policy for those with gender dysphoria.

It is also asking a judge to rule that the department has violated the ADA.

The Independent approached Utah Department of Corrections for comment but is yet to receive a response.