Judge Orders Evidentiary Hearing in Transgender Woman's Case Against NC Department of Adult Correction

February 9, 2024 10:23 am

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Charlotte — A federal judge has issued a decision in Kanautica Zayre-Brown v. NC Department of Adult Correction (DAC) denying both the Defendants’ and the Plaintiff’s motions for summary judgment. The judge found that only a few narrow matters of fact precluded him from deciding yet whether the prison system must provide gender-affirming surgery for Mrs. Zayre-Brown, an incarcerated transgender woman, and will hold an evidentiary hearing on February 20 to resolve those issues.

The decision, written by U.S. District Court Judge Max O. Cogburn, Jr., confirmed that gender dysphoria is a serious medical condition requiring treatment, and, for some people, denying access to gender-affirming surgery is unconstitutional and medically unacceptable. The decision also strongly suggested that the state prison system may be imposing a de facto ban on gender-affirming surgery for incarcerated people. The prison system has a policy that permits gender-affirming surgery, but it has received more than thirty such requests and denied all of them.

Judge Cogburn noted that North Carolina recognizes gender dysphoria as a serious medical condition.

“It says that it further recognizes that gender reassignment surgery can be medically necessary in some cases,” wrote Judge Cogburn. “In determining medical necessity, it cannot then set up a sham process where the answer is always no.”

For years, Mrs. Zayre-Brown has been requesting medically necessary treatment consistent with established standards of care. The prison system has refused to provide this treatment, despite its own healthcare providers concluding that Mrs. Zayre-Brown requires surgery.

The prison system previously housed Mrs. Zayre-Brown in male facilities for nearly two years, despite knowing that she is a transgender woman. DAC officials’ pattern of inhumane treatment has caused Mrs. Zayre-Brown physical health complications and extreme emotional and psychological distress. In her recent court filing, Mrs. Zayre-Brown testified: “[H]aving to fight for so many years to obtain the medical care I desperately need has been exhausting and dispiriting.”

“Mrs. Zayre-Brown has endured years of suffering as a result of the inhumane denial of treatment by DAC officials,” said Jaclyn Maffetore, Senior Staff Attorney for the ACLU of North Carolina. “No one who is incarcerated should be forced to endure a dangerous medical condition without the treatment they need. Gender-affirming care is life-saving care, and we will continue to advocate for all transgender people and those who are incarcerated in North Carolina.”

The evidentiary hearing will be held on February 20, 2024, at the Court for the Western District of North Carolina in Charlotte.

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