US prisons are never completely safe, but for black transgender individuals, they are particularly dangerous environments. Reports of abuse are usually filed and ignored, but Ashley Diamond finally took a stand in February and filed a lawsuit against Georgia corrections officials for the mistreatment she received as a black transgender woman. Incarcerated for burglary and violating probation back in 2012, Diamond was sent to Georgia State Prison, a maximum-security facility for men, which was an unjust decision. Despite repeatedly stating she was transgender, she was denied proper hormone treatment that she had taken for the last 17 years.
This past week, the United States Justice Department took a stand and sided with Diamond, stating that hormones are a necessary part of an individual’s health by recognizing gender dysphoria as a legitimate medical condition. However, in the three years of denied care, Diamond has already undergone extreme change and withdrawal symptoms. The fact that it took a lawsuit to provide her the medical care she deserves shows a very large problem in the American correctional system.
A diabetic would never be denied insulin because it is a threat to their health, and this logic should be applied to transgender people as well. For many, hormone treatment is a part of who they are: mentally and physically. Withholding treatment is not only unethical but a form of torture. For a time, Diamond was placed in a facility for non-violent offenders, but after reiterating her right to take hormones, she was punished by being placed in solitary confinement and then sent back to maximum security. This attempt to silence her is despicable and highlights how many problems are probably swept under the rug. People in prison are still human and deserve to be treated as such. Maximum security should not even have been considered for Diamond, considering her crime was nonviolent and she is at high risk of being assaulted because she is a woman.
As if this was not enough, Diamond also reports being raped on seven different occasions. Reporting them has never helped her or prevented future assaults. Prison guards have mocked her and locked her in solitary for “acting like a woman,” according to The New York Times. It does not help that Georgia State Prisons are among the most dangerous in the country. In 2012, a final ruling was announced for the 2003 Prison Rape Elimination Act which specified that facilities, “Incorporate unique vulnerabilities of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and gender nonconforming inmates into training and screening protocols,” according to the Justice Department. The act also states that special mental and medical care be given to victims. In Diamond’s case and probably many others, none of these standards were even close to being met. The abuse pushed her to attempt suicide and castration.
Laws are nothing more than words if they are not carried out or enforced. The correctional system needs a complete investigation and overhaul in order to become safer for minority groups. Incarcerated transgenders face much more than time in prison; every day is a fight to survive. Diamond’s story has drawn significant attention, even from celebrities. Elton John and Michael Stipe released a statement calling for the safety and needs of transgender women to be recognized and met. Prison is not an excuse to dehumanize people, especially by stripping their identity. There needs to be many more regulations in place to ensure all inmates receive the same treatment. Transgender individuals should not be subjected to further harassment and discrimination just because of who they are.
Marisa Nobs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.