ACLU Files Lawsuit Against NC Department of Public Safety for Inhumane Treatment of Incarcerated Transgender Woman

Despite the medical findings of health care providers engaged by DPS, prison officials continue to deny gender-affirming care to Kanautica Zayre-Brown

April 29, 2022 9:30 am

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RALEIGH, N.C. — The American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of North Carolina, and Patterson Harkavy LLP today filed a complaint on behalf of Kanautica Zayre-Brown, a transgender woman incarcerated at Anson Correctional Institution 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. DPS officials’ pattern of inhumane treatment has caused Mrs. Zayre-Brown physical health complications and extreme emotional and psychological distress, leading to thoughts of self-harm and suicide.

“Mrs. Zayre-Brown has a serious medical condition that DPS’s own health care providers have recognized requires treatment including gender-affirming surgery. But DPS continues to ignore its constitutional obligation to provide this medically necessary care simply because she is a transgender woman,” said Jaclyn Maffetore, staff attorney with the ACLU of North Carolina. “DPS’s denial of treatment is not only discriminatory – it is inhumane. By refusing to treat her gender dysphoria, DPS subjects Mrs. Zayre-Brown to needless suffering and places her life at risk.”

In spite of the fact that Mrs. Zayre-Brown is a woman and DPS has known about her gender dysphoria diagnosis since she entered custody, DPS housed her in male facilities for nearly two years before transferring her to Anson CI, a women’s facility where she has continued to be a target of discrimination due to suffering from gender dysphoria.

“The discrimination, mistreatment, and neglect perpetrated against Mrs. Zayre-Brown is far too common for transgender people who are incarcerated,” said Taylor Brown, staff attorney for the LGBTQ & HIV Rights Project at the ACLU. “The North Carolina Department of Public Safety will now have to answer for their unlawful and discriminatory behavior, as we fight to get Mrs. Zayre-Brown the health care that she requires and is constitutionally due. The ACLU and our affiliate partners across the country will continue to hold prisons accountable for violations and deprivations of the rights of incarcerated transgender people.”

DPS’s refusal to provide necessary care for Mrs. Zayre-Brown violates the U.S. and North Carolina constitutions, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The complaint seeks damages and an injunction requiring DPS to provide Mrs. Zayre-Brown with necessary medical care and accommodations for her gender dysphoria, including the use of gender-consistent terminology, consistent hormone therapy maintenance, and gender-affirming surgery.

“The North Carolina Department of Public Safety has a duty of care that must be exercised in the case of Mrs. Zayre-Brown,” said Kendra R. Johnson, executive director of Equality NC. “For years, she has been outspoken about the mistreatment, discrimination and harassment she has faced, and LGBTQ+ and racial justice advocates have repeatedly called for these issues to be addressed. DPS’s denial of required medical care is a continual and prolonged denial of her basic human rights and dignity. We at Equality NC stand behind Mrs. Zayre-Brown and hope to see compassionate care extended to her immediately.”

In response to litigation from the ACLU and ACLU affiliates, courts across the country have consistently recognized the right of incarcerated transgender people to adequate health care and safety measures. In late December 2021, a federal court ruled on a motion and ordered the Bureau of Prisons to evaluate Cristina Nichole Iglesias for gender-affirming surgery. This landmark decision marks the first time a court has ordered the federal government to address an incarcerated person’s medical need for gender-affirming surgery.

The full complaint can be found here.

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