Metro Weekly

Federal court rules Florida transgender inmate can receive hormone therapy

Judge finds Department of Corrections' "freeze-frame" policy violated Reiyn Keohane's Eighth Amendment rights

Photo: pecchio.nero, via Wikimedia.

A federal court in Tallahassee has ruled that a transgender inmate who was denied hormones and other treatments to help her transition has a right to access those treatments.

On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Mark Walker ordered the Florida Department of Corrections to allow Reiyn Keohane to receive hormone therapy and any other treatment that her doctor recommends.

Walker also ruled that Keohane must be permitted to access the same clothing, including women’s undergarments, access female toiletries, and adhere to the same grooming standards as other female inmates.

Keohane, who has identified as female since age 8 and started presenting as a woman since age 14, officially changed her name in 2011 and began hormone therapy after being diagnosed with gender dysphoria.

After she was charged with second-degree murder for stabbing her roommate in 2013, Keohane was housed in Lee County Jail, which meant that she stopped receiving her hormone treatments.

She subsequently agreed to a plea deal and was sentenced to 15 years in prison at the Walton Correctional Institution — a male prison — in DeFuniak Springs, Fla.

Upon arriving at the Walton Correctional Institution, Keohane requested that she be able to resume hormone treatment, and be allowed to dress and wear her hair in a manner that reflects her gender identity.

But because she was not taking hormones when she was transferred to the prison, Keohane ran afoul of the Florida Department of Corrections’ “freeze-frame” policy, under which transgender inmates cannot begin any treatments that they were not receiving at the precise moment that they entered the prison’s custody.

As a result, the prison confiscated Keohane’s bras and undergarments, forcibly shaved her hair, and refused to allow her to receive hormone therapy.

During her time in prison, while she was being refused treatment, Keohane attempted suicide and self-mutilation by attempting to castrate herself.

Keohane later enlisted the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Florida, and the international law firm DLA Piper to sue the Department of Corrections, alleging that the policy violated her Eighth Amendment right not to be subjected to “cruel and unusual punishment.”

Following the filing of the lawsuit, the DOC began providing her with hormone therapy, but it refused to let her dress and groom as female, as other female inmates can.

In his opinion, Walker made it clear that Koehane’s rights had been violated by the DOC’s freeze-frame policy, which he declared unconstitutional. He also issued an order prohibiting the DOC from attempting to enforce the policy with respect to other transgender inmates.

“While now recognizing Ms. Keohane’s mental-health need for hormone therapy, Defendant persists in suggesting she is to blame for any victimization coming her way based on her gender role presentation. But after denying treatment based on its security policies — and offering expert witnesses to testify to myriad security concerns — Defendant abandoned this red herring on the eve of trial with its stipulation that if the requested treatments are medically necessary, they’ll be provided with added security measures,” Walker wrote.

“Having so stipulated, Defendant is now put to that task. Ms. Keohane is not an animal. She is a transgender woman. Forthwith, Defendant shall treat her with the dignity the Eighth Amendment commands.”

Lawyers for Keohane celebrated the decision.

“We are thrilled that the Court has ruled that a prisoner with gender dysphoria must be afforded appropriate treatment, including hormone therapy and the ability to dress and groom in accordance with her gender identity,” Daniel Tilley, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Florida, said in a statement.

“Our client Reiyn has fought the DOC tooth and nail for years, and they have forcefully resisted providing her with treatment for her gender dysphoria every step of the way,” added Tilley. “After today, the DOC will no longer be able to subject her to forced buzz cuts or confiscate her bras and underpants. And her hormone therapy will continue. Today is a great day for our client, and we celebrate with her.”

Leslie Cooper, a senior staff attorney with the national ACLU’s LGBT Project, praised the court for recognizing that preventing transgender women from receiving medically necessary treatment and living according to their gender identity was harmful to their psychological wellbeing.

“Allowing Ms. Keohane to dress and groom according to the same standards applied to other incarcerated women follows the practices of major prison systems across the country,” Cooper said in a statement. “Prisons and jails across the country that have fallen behind should take note of today’s ruling and reform their policies. Litigation is wholly unnecessary if prisons and jails simply do the right thing.”

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