ACLU Demands End to Discriminatory and Inhumane Treatment of Incarcerated Transgender Woman

June 30, 2022 9:45 am

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Raleigh, N.C. - The American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of North Carolina, and Patterson Harkavy LLP filed a motion Tuesday for immediate relief on behalf of Kanautica Zayre-Brown, a transgender woman incarcerated at Anson Correctional Institution in Polkton, North Carolina who is being denied essential gender-affirming health care. Mrs. Zayre-Brown has been diagnosed with gender dysphoria, a serious medical condition, and for several years has requested necessary treatment consistent with established medical standards. The North Carolina Department of Public Safety (DPS) has refused to provide treatment for entirely non-medical reasons.

"Pride Month, Trans Day of Visibility, and beyond are saddening symbols of what every LGBTQIA+ individual has had to conquer and since October 10, 2017, I have felt and endured painfully the plight of my elders,” said Mrs. Zayre-Brown. “I am Physically, Mentally, Spiritually, and Emotionally EXHAUSTED, but my survival is key.”

The motion calls for a preliminary injunction requesting that the Court order expedited relief to allow Mrs. Zayre-Brown to obtain gender-affirming surgery while the case proceeds. In support of the motion is an expert declaration from a physician specializing in gender dysphoria who has treated incarcerated transgender patients and is on the board of the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH).

“Mrs. Zayre-Brown's gender dysphoria is severe, and medical professionals have repeatedly made DPS officials aware of that fact. But because Mrs. Zayre-Brown is transgender, they have refused to act,” said Jaclyn Maffetore, staff attorney with the ACLU of North Carolina. “State officials cannot be permitted to turn their backs on their legal obligations to those committed to their care. DPS’s failure to provide Mrs. Zayre-Brown with the medical care she so critically needs is a violation of her rights, an affront to her dignity, and a threat to her life.”

Mrs. Zayre-Brown was incarcerated in men's prisons for almost two years, in violation of federal law and at great risk to her safety, causing extreme emotional and psychological distress. In 2019, DPS transferred her to a women's facility after months of negotiation and pressure from the community. Mrs. Zayre-Brown's legal team filed a complaint in April 2022 seeking damages and an injunction requiring DPS to provide necessary medical care and accommodations for her gender dysphoria, including consistent hormone therapy maintenance and gender-affirming surgery.

“Doctors and mental health providers all agree that gender-affirming care saves lives, and increases the quality of life for trans people,” said Kendra R. Johnson, executive director of Equality NC. “Gender-affirming care is a human right, and Kanautica should be provided with that care. Instead, she has been denied the care she needs for years, and that cruel punishment is causing her great distress. Like so many other transgender people, Kanautica has been remarkably resilient in standing up for herself, and we are proud to continue to stand with her and the ACLU as they work diligently to address this.”

“Mrs. Zayre-Brown's experiences are far too common among incarcerated transgender people, who are routinely subjected to abuse and harassment,” said Taylor Brown, staff attorney at the ACLU’s LGBTQ & HIV Project. “Records indicate there are more than 100 individuals incarcerated in North Carolina who self-identify as transgender. It is our obligation as advocates to ensure that DPS is meeting its constitutional and legal duties to all transgender people in its custody. Beyond Mrs. Zayre-Brown’s case, we hope this legal challenge is a wakeup call to the State of North Carolina and the serious problems incarcerated transgender people are facing.”

This week’s filing coincides with the end of Pride Month and the 53rd anniversary of the Stonewall riots, widely noted as the beginning of the modern movement for LGBTQ rights. The motion can be found here.

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