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Transgender Idaho Prisoner Receives Hormone Therapy Pending Trial

A federal judge has ordered the Idaho Department of Corrections (IDOC) to provide hormone therapy to a prisoner with gender identity disorder pending trial.

The preliminary injunction, issued July 27, 2007, was in response to a lawsuit filed by Jennifer Spencer, 27, who was born a biological male but lived as a woman before going to prison in 2000 on charges of possessing a stolen car and escape. On the outside Spencer had taken birth control pills in an effort to develop the secondary sexual characteristics of a female. Following her imprisonment, Spencer obtained a legal name change from her original name of Randall Gammett.

In September 2003, Spencer informed prison officials that she believed she had gender identity disorder after discovering the IDOC had a policy specifying treatment options for the disorder. Prison physicians, however, refused to prescribe the female hormone estrogen. Instead they first diagnosed her with a non-specific sexual disorder, then later bipolar disorder, and recommended the male hormone testosterone.

Less than a year later, in August 2004, Spencer unsuccessfully tried to hang herself in her cell. In October 2004 she tried to castrate herself. The first attempt was unsuccessful, but she succeeded 10 days later.

Spencer sued the IDOC and prison doctors (employed by the prison’s health care contractor, Correctional Medical Services, which is infamous for cutting costs at the expense of prisoner health and well-being), asserting they had violated her constitutional rights by failing to properly diagnose her and provide adequate treatment, which constituted deliberate indifference. She further contended that she had submitted approximately 75 requests for gender identity disorder treatment, all of which were ignored by prison officials.

In issuing the preliminary injunction, U.S. District Court Judge Mikel Williams acknowledged that Spencer had a good chance of winning at trial.

“While defendants seem to have identified the fact that plaintiff has a significant mental health issue regarding gender identity or confusion, there is little in the record to show that they have provided adequate psychotherapy or other counseling to address that issue.
Rather, they seem to have consciously disregarded it,” Williams wrote. The court also noted that the IDOC was already providing estrogen to other prisoners with gender identity disorders, so the prison system would not be unduly burdened in terms of treating Spencer. See: Gammett v. Idaho State Board of Corrections, U.S.D.C. (D. ID), Case No. CV05-257-S-MHW (July 27, 2007); 2007 WL 2186896.

Shannon Minter, an attorney representing Spencer who serves as legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said Spencer was elated with the ruling. “It got her the relief which she so urgently needed without any further delay,” Minter said. “The decision is just so overwhelmingly positive that we are very hopeful the department will now work out a settlement with us without insisting on going forward with an entire trial.”

Unfortunately, Minter apparently had little experience in dealing with recalcitrant prison officials. The defendants filed motions for reconsideration and to terminate the injunction, which were denied by the district court in September 2007. The court noted that it had reached its decision to provide injunctive relief “after an exhaustive examination of the lengthy briefs, pleadings, affidavits and medical records,” and discounted the “new” evidence presented by prison officials, which alleged contradictions in Spencer’s self-reported history of having lived as a woman prior to her incarceration. The defendants were ordered to provide treatment to Spencer through a non-prison physician and non-prison psychologist, at the IDOC’s expense. See: Gammett v. Idaho State Board of Corrections, U.S.D.C. (D. ID), Case No. CV05-257-S-MHW (Sept. 7, 2007); 2007 WL 2684750.

The defendants then appealed the district court’s rulings to the Ninth Circuit. By agreement of the parties, the case was stayed pending the outcome of the appeal.

Additional source: Associated Press

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Related legal case

Gammett v. Idaho State Board of Corrections