BOISE – The state must provide female hormone therapy to an Idaho inmate who castrated herself after prison officials refused to treat her for gender identity disorder, a federal judge has ruled.
Jenniffer Spencer, who changed her name from Randall Gammett after she was imprisoned for possession of a stolen car and escape in 2000, believes she is a woman trapped in a man’s body. Born biologically male, she castrated herself using a disposable razor blade in her prison cell after doctors working for the state prison system refused to prescribe her the female hormone estrogen.
Spencer sued the Idaho Department of Correction and the physicians, claiming that her constitutional rights were violated and that she was subjected to cruel and unusual punishment when the doctors failed to diagnose gender identity disorder and treat her with female hormones. Instead, the department and its doctors repeatedly offered Spencer the male hormone testosterone.
A trial over the lawsuit has not yet been scheduled, but U.S. District Judge Mikel Williams ruled Friday that the state must provide Spencer with psychotherapy and estrogen pending trial. Williams also noted that Spencer is scheduled for release in two years, and getting the lawsuit to trial could take longer.
Correction Department spokesman Jeff Ray said the department was still considering the implications of the ruling.
Shannon Minter, legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights and an attorney representing Spencer, said Spencer was thrilled by 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.”
In the lawsuit filed last year, Spencer says that before she was incarcerated, she lived full time as a woman and took birth control pills in an attempt to develop the secondary sex characteristics of a woman. But she apparently didn’t tell Correction Department officials that she believed she had gender identity disorder until September 2003, when she learned the state had a policy detailing treatment options for transgender inmates.
She contends the department ignored some 75 requests she submitted for gender identity disorder treatment. Instead, prison doctors diagnosed her with a nonspecific sexual disorder, then bipolar disorder.
In August 2004, Spencer tried to hang herself in her cell but survived. Two months later she tried to castrate herself, failing in the first attempt but succeeding 10 days later. After the castration, doctors diagnosed her with hypogonadism, a condition that can lead to osteoporosis, loss of muscle mass and other problems if left untreated. Spencer asked again for estrogen, but the doctors prescribed testosterone instead, a prescription that Spencer has refused to take.
The state’s attorneys contend that prison doctors did not find conclusive evidence that Spencer, 27, has gender identity disorder. It would be unethical for the doctors to prescribe a drug that wasn’t needed and that could do harm, attorney John Burke said.
Williams ruled that Spencer has a fair 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 said.
Gender is an “overwhelming feature of a human being’s life,” Williams noted.
“There is no evidence before the court that female hormones have, in fact, proved harmful to male subjects who are no longer producing testosterone,” Williams said, “especially when the psychological and mental factors of (gender identity disorder) are taken into consideration. Further, the effects of hormone replacement therapy are reversible.”
Other transgender inmates are already receiving female hormone therapy, the judge said, and so the state is able to handle any special concerns that might arise if Spencer were given estrogen.
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