Federal court orders prison system to allow gender-affirming surgery

Image by Lisa Kennedy from Pixabay

A federal court in Chicago has ordered the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to evaluate a transgender woman prisoner’s need for gender-affirming surgery.

According to a press release from the ACLU of Illinois, U.S. District Court Chief Judge Nancy Rosenstengel heard arguments on the medical care received by Cristina Nichole Iglesias while in prison.

“For years, Cristina has suffered greatly from the denial of appropriate healthcare and the constant threats to her life while in BOP detention,” said John Knight of the ACLU of Illinois who represents Iglesias. “Cristina has fought for years to get the treatment the Constitution requires. The Court’s order removes the unnecessary hurdles and delays BOP has repeatedly constructed to prevent her from getting the care that she urgently needs.”

The ACLU of Illinois said that no transgender prisoner in federal custody has ever received gender-affirming surgery from the Bureau of Prisons. There are about 1,200 transgender people in federal custody.

Under the court order, the bureau must decide by January 24, 2022, whether to recommend Iglesias for gender-affirming surgery. If BOP’s Transgender Executive Council (TEC) recommends her for surgery, BOP’s medical director must assess Iglesias within 30 days and report to the court about progress on locating a surgeon to perform the procedure. If the TEC does not recommend Iglesias for surgery, a detailed explanation must be filed with the Court.

Iglesias has been in BOP custody for 27 years. She was out as transgender when she arrived in prison in 1994, but wasn’t moved to a women’s prison until 2021. She has been fighting for gender-affirming surgery since 2016.

The court found that Iglesias “suffers daily and is at risk of self-mutilation and suicide” because of her inadequately treated gender dysphoria and that she is “running out of time.”

“We hope that the order directing BOP to move forward will result in medically necessary and long overdue healthcare for Cristina—and, in time, for the many other transgender people in BOP’s custody who have also been denied surgery and other much-needed gender-affirming care,” Knight said.

Iglesias is represented by a legal team that includes counsel from the ACLU of Illinois, the American Civil Liberties Union, Winston & Strawn LLP, and Feirich/Mager/Green/Ryan.

The full order from the Court can be found here.