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Saturday, June 15, 2024 | Back issues
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Transgender Inmate Can Sue for Hair Treatments

(CN) - Prison officials may have violated a transgender inmate's constitutional rights by refusing to comply with doctors' orders about laser hair removal treatments, a federal judge ruled.

Christine Alexander, a biological male who identifies as female, was diagnosed in 2003 with Gender Identity Disorder, a controversial clinical name approved by the American Psychiatric Association.

Since that time, Alexander has received hormone replacement therapy and psychological counseling while incarcerated at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Norfolk.

Because Alexander also "suffers from facial and body hair, and male pattern baldness," several doctors have prescribed laser hair removal and finasteride, the generic name for Rogaine or Propecia, to "enhance patient's progress towards feminization," according to a court summary.

Though Alexander claims that the hair treatments are medically necessary rather than cosmetic, the state corrections department has not offered them.

The Harry Benjamin International Gender Dysphoria Association's standards of care, which are cited in the judgment, recommend treatment of hormone therapy, the "real-life experience" of one's preferred gender, and sex-reassignment surgery.

Alexander claimed violations of her Eighth and 14th Amendment rights in a complaint against three corrections department officials, Assistant Deputy Commissioner for Clinical Services Lawrence Weiner, Gender Identity Treatment Chairman Robert Diener and Norfolk's Associate Medical Director Rebecca Lubelczyk.

"Plaintiff asserts that the failure to provide her with the medical treatment will lead to serious bodily harm, untreated mental illness and continued depression," according to U.S. District Judge Joseph Tauro's summary of the lawsuit.

The defendants each filed motions to dismiss, but Tauro upheld the claims last week, finding that Alexander's "allegations, taken as true, are sufficient to establish that the plaintiff has a serious medical need, which has not been adequately treated under the Eighth Amendment standard."

The court noted that Alexander's complaint "contains detailed factual allegations to support plaintiff's contention that her inadequate treatment is due to defendants' deliberate indifference, and that such deliberate indifference is likely to continue in the future."

"Plaintiff sets out at least three separate occasions on which she was prescribed laser hair removal and/or electrolysis," he wrote. "She also details a long history of administrative appeals and repeated requests to individual in various positions of authority at the [Department of Corrections] that her doctors' orders be followed."

Citing precedent, Tauro found that Alexander sufficiently established the "personal involvement of prison officials in an alleged constitutional violation by showing that the official 'knew of the prisoner's need for medical care and yet failed to provide the same.'"

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