Prison Refusing To Pay For Inmate's Life Changing Surgery

A Minnesota inmate filed a lawsuit alleging discrimination by the state Department of Corrections (DOC) in part because it is deferring sex reassignment surgery.

Christina Lusk, 56, who is serving a felony drug sentence at the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Moose Lake, Minnesota until 2024, claims to be "socially, medically, and legally" female but alleges the DOC has failed to recognize it, according to the lawsuit.

The advocacy group Gender Justice filed the suit on Lusk's behalf, naming the DOC, as well as Commissioner Paul Schnell, Deputy Commissioner Michelle Smith, and Medical Director James Amsterdam. Schnell, Smith, and Amsterdam serve on the DOC's transgender committee, which hears requests from transgender prisoners in the state wanting to transfer facilities.

The suit seeks no less than $50,000 in financial compensation and seeks a "permanent mandatory injunction" requiring that Lusk, who is legally recognized as female, be treated as a woman and transferred from the men-only correctional facility at Moose Lake.

Lusk claims to have been sexually abused and discriminated against by the male inmates and placed in the "direct line of fire for violence."

Lusk began cross-sex hormones in 2009, changed names in 2018, and was conferring with doctors about surgical options before being arrested in 2019. The inmate had undergone "top surgery" before being jailed and was "on the verge of scheduling" a vaginoplasty.

After reviewing Lusk's case, DOC Medical Director James Amsterdam determined that Lusk should not be allowed to receive genital surgery, but "could pursue that after release," according to the lawsuit.

Lusk "filed a grievance with the DOC seeking vaginoplasty" in 2019, writing in the complaint: "I have been diagnosed with severe Gender Dysphoria. I have attempted suicide four times due to my severe distress caused by my GD as well as self-mutilation. My mental capacity is under control, and I am able to make good decisions as far as surgery. I have letters of support from my primary physician, my gender specialist, my therapist, as well as my psychiatrist, only two letters are required for surgery but I go up and beyond what is required."

The lawsuit further alleges that the DOC decides where to place inmates based on genitalia instead of a medical or legal basis, which it claims is "in violation of the Minnesota Human Rights Act, the Minnesota Constitution, and the [federal] Prison Rape Elimination Act."

The DOC's transgender committee recommended that Lusk be placed in single-cell or dormitory housing and given the option to shower alone, however, the lawsuit claims that Lusk was housed with up to seven men at some times. Lusk filed a complaint with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights in 2020.

"Transgender people disproportionately face abuse and harassment in state institutions including jails and prisons, schools, healthcare facilities, and more," Jess Braverman, legal director at Gender Justice, said in a statement.

"Every person in custody deserves to be protected from violence and harassment," Braverman continued. "We need our systems, such as the [Minnesota] Department of Corrections (DOC), to do better now to protect all vulnerable groups, including transgender people."

The Minnesota DOC said in a statement that it is "committed to ensuring the safety and well-being of transgender incarcerated individuals" and explained that it considers accommodations for transgender inmates on a case-by-case basis.

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