On January 25, 2006, a federal court in Wisconsin issued an emergency injunction to prevent the state from discontinuing hormone therapy for three transgender prisoners, despite a new state law banning the therapy.
In January 2006 the Wisconsin legislature enacted the Inmate Sex Change Prevention Act, Wis. Stat. § 302.286(5m). Sponsored by Republican state representative Mark Gundrum, the law prohibits the state from providing either surgery or hormone therapy to transgender prisoners. The statute, apparently the first of its kind in any state, was opposed by the Wisconsin Department of Corrections (WDOC), said lawyers for Lambda Legal and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which are representing two of the women.
Gundrum initiated the legislation in response to a lawsuit filed in 2003 by a third prisoner, Donna Dawn Konitzer, aka Scott Konitzer. In that lawsuit Konitzer sued the WDOC after being denied gender reassignment surgery, which she claims prison doctors promised to perform. Konitzer, who is serving 123 years for armed robbery, also sought to be housed in a female prison.
All three prisoners suffer from Gender Identity Disorder (GID), a recognized psychiatric illness that requires treatment. Konitzer has been receiving testosterone blockers and feminizing hormone therapy since 1999, according to her lawsuit, Konitzer v. Bartow, USDC ED WI, Case No. 03-C-717. Prisoner Kari Sundstrom began receiving hormone therapy in 1990. Prisoner Andrea Fields started the treatment in 1996. Lamda and the ACLU are representing Sundstrom and Fields.
The legislature's knee jerk reaction could have severe medical consequences. According to experts cited in the lawsuits, abrupt withdrawal from hormone therapy can lead to diabetes, hypertension, wasting disease, and heart failure. Psychiatric problems including depression and increased thoughts of suicide are also possible.
At least one of the State's own witnesses agreed with the prisoners that terminating the therapy would be cruel and inappropriate, noted the ruling in Konitzers case. Fields and Sundstrom, whose therapeutic doses had been halved in anticipation of the laws January 24, 2006, deadline, were already experiencing depression, mood swings, severe headaches and other symptoms. The ruling by Judge Charles Clevert Jr. reinstated the women's medication to its original strength.
The new law is apparently based on misdirected morality rather than established medical opinion. Nor is it fiscally justified. The treatment costs roughly $675 to $1,600 per year--arguably less than the price of treating complications associated with withdrawal. Moreover, fewer than a dozen Wisconsin prisoners have been receiving hormone therapy. Still, Representative Gundrum remains unswayed. Its ridiculous to ask the taxpayers' to pay for this, he said. See: Sundstrom v. Frank, USDC D WI, Case No. 06-C-112. The injunction can be viewed on PLN's website at prisonlegalnews.org.
Additional sources: planetout.com, gay.com, signonsandiego.com, AP
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Related legal case
Sundstrom v. Frank
|Cite||USDC D WI, Case No. 06-C-112|