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TRO Requires Pennsylvania Jail to Provide Hormone Treatment

A Pennsylvania federal district court issued a temporary restraining order on July 7, 2017 that required the Lackawanna County Prison (LCP) to provide hormone drugs to treat a transgender prisoner diagnosed with gender dysphoria.

Steven Fritz, who identifies as Sparkle Wilson, “has lived and presented herself as a woman since 2005, at which point she started procuring and taking hormones on the street.” While at State Correctional Institution-Houtzdale in 2015, Wilson was formally diagnosed with gender dysphoria. The American Psychiatric Association defines gender dysphoria as a conflict between a person’s physical or assigned gender and the gender with which he or she identifies, and its symptoms can include anxiety, depression, suicidal ideations and self-mutilation if left untreated.

Wilson, 44, was paroled from SCI-Houtzdale in 2016 and continued to receive two forms of hormones, Estrace and Premarin. In January 2017, she was jailed on a parole violation for using a stolen credit card. Upon arrival at LCP, Wilson advised guards of her gender dysphoria condition and the need for hormones to treat it. For the first three days, hormones were not provided. They were then administered for three days before being cut off without notice.

In an attempt to receive the hormone treatment, Wilson filed grievances and requests that were returned without resolution or not returned at all. The civil rights suit filed by Scranton attorneys Matthew T. Comerford and Curtis M. Parkins on Wilson’s behalf stated that the deprivation of hormones caused her to take on masculine features, including “skin damage due to reemergence of facial and other hair across her body.” Wilson also suffered “destruction and deformation of her breasts.”

Along with the filing of the complaint, an emergency motion for a temporary restraining order (TRO) and preliminary injunction was submitted to the district court. On the day of the filing, the court issued a TRO directing LCP and its medical contractor, Correctional Care, Inc., to give Wilson the hormone treatment.

The defendants, including prison doctor Edward Zaloga, objected to providing the drugs based on health concerns.

“It is not that the prison or Dr. Zaloga were unwilling to administer these medications,” said the doctor’s attorney, Joseph Healey. “We are concerned that the off-label, experimental use of the drugs, could cause problems. We have no supporting medical testimony that suggests these side effects won’t happen.”

Parkins called that argument “disingenuous, bordering on dishonest.” Citing the initial administration of hormones for three days at LCP, he asked, “Where was defendant’s concern then?”

The district court scheduled a hearing to determine whether the TRO should become a preliminary injunction, but the parties agreed to a stipulation prior to the hearing. In a July 17, 2017 order, the court noted that pursuant to the stipulation prison medical staff would “continue to administer hormones” to Wilson, who agreed to assume the risk of any potential side effects. As a result, the TRO was dissolved by the district court. The case remains pending. See: Wilson v. Lackawanna County, U.S.D.C. (M.D. Penn.), Case No. 3:17-cv-01191-RDM. 

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Related legal case

Wilson v. Lackawanna County