Judge Orders Idaho to Give Transgender Inmate Gender Surgery
A federal judge ruled on Thursday that Idaho’s Department of Corrections and its medical contractor have to provide gender reassignment surgery for a male inmate who identifies as a woman. He (or she?) has been asking for the procedure for years, continuing to live as a woman but having to be housed in a men’s prison. The inmate from the Pocatello area could now be only the second in the country to receive the treatment.
Adree Edmo, 31, imprisoned for almost 6 years, is now to wait a maximum of 6 months for a surgery that will restructure her physical characteristics to match her gender identity.
“For more than forty years, the Supreme Court has consistently held that consciously ignoring a prisoner’s serious medical needs amounts to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment,” Judge B. Lynn Winmill wrote in his ruling issued Thursday.
“Many transgender individuals are comfortable living with their gender role, expression and identity without surgery,” the Idaho State Journal reported Winmill saying. “For others, however, gender confirmation surgery … is the only effective treatment.”
Winmill also said the Idaho Department of Correction and Corizon’s refusal to provide Edmo with the surgery puts her at risk of irreparable harm, the Washington Post reported.
Edmo was diagnosed with gender dysphoria in 2012, which was the same year she was incarcerated for sexual abuse of a child under 16 in Bannock County, according to the court order and IDOC’s website. She will finish her sentence in 2021.
Prior to her time in prison, “she lived full-time as a woman, dressing in women’s clothes and wearing women’s cosmetics,” she wrote in her original civil rights complaint against the prison system, dated to April 2017, according to the Idaho State Journal.
According to the order, Edmo had already undergone some treatment for her gender dysphoria, including long-term hormone therapy, which didn’t help, though, as “she continues to experience gender dysphoria so significant that she cuts herself to relieve emotional pain.”
She has also tried to present herself as feminine while incarcerated, modifying her undergarments, styling her hair and wearing makeup. Having been given disciplinary reports for those actions, Edmo attempted self-castration twice telling she “feels depressed, embarrassed and disgusted by her male genitalia.”
After an unsuccessful attempt to remove her testicles with a disposable razor blade in 2015, Edmo made another attempt in 2016 but had to stop due to losing too much blood. That’s when prison officials had her transported to a nearby hospital, where the testicle was repaired.
Winmill argued that the state ignored “generally accepted medical standards” for treating Edmo who continued feeling gender dysphoria even after undergoing hormone therapy.
“She has presented extensive evidence that, despite years of hormone therapy, she continues to experience gender dysphoria so significant that she cuts herself to relieve emotional pain,” Winmill wrote. “With full awareness of Ms. Edmo’s circumstances, IDOC and its medical provider Corizon refuse to provide Ms. Edmo with gender confirmation surgery.”
The Judge added that “this decision is not intended, and should not be construed, as a general finding that all inmates suffering from gender dysphoria are entitled to gender confirmation surgery.”
Amy Whelan, a lawyer with the National Center for Lesbian Rights who helped litigate the case, portrayed the surgery as a “life-saving” measure for Edmo.
“I think the thing that makes this case so important is that this is a procedure that is necessary for some transgender inmates, and in fact is lifesaving care, but it’s almost universally denied and banned by prisons across the country,” Whelan said. “There is no state that I’m aware of that has ever provided the surgery without being ordered by a court to do so.”
Idaho Department of Correction spokesman Jeff Ray said IDOC will be addressing some of the issues raised by the ruling — including whether the state will appeal, and where Edmo will be housed after her surgery — in the days to come. There are currently 30 inmates with gender dysphoria in state custody, according to the ruling.
“I hope that this makes clear to IDOC and also to prison systems around the country that they can’t deny medically necessary care to transgender prisoners — that is a requirement under our constitution,” said Amy Whelan. “They need to start evaluating people appropriately, and providing care to them.”
Thursday’s decision was just the latest in which the government mandated accommodations for individuals who identify as transgender.
Last year, for example, a judge ruled that California had to provide inmates with feminine accessories and things like compression underwear. In Wisconsin, as IJR reported, a judge went so far as to argue that the state’s Medicaid services had to provide surgery for individuals who identified as transgender.