New York Times: Prisons Should ‘Do The Right Thing’ For Transgender Inmates


Ophelia De’lonta

Ophelia De’lonta

It took the New York Times several days to abide by its own policy respecting the identity of Pvt. Chelsea Manning, but now the newspaper’s editorial board has called on the military prison system to provide her with transgender-inclusive medical care. In an editorial published Tuesday, the board said Manning should be able to access hormone therapy and be protected from potential abuse without being unduly isolated:

Private Manning’s lawyer, David Coombs, said last week that he hoped military prison officials would voluntarily provide hormone treatment, without a lawsuit. It should not take a court order to get officials — including Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel — to do the right thing. They should give Private Manning appropriate medical care and safe but not unduly isolated housing, which should be available for all transgender prisoners.

Coverage of Manning’s transition since her announcement last week has been particularly problematic, but this editorial demonstrates a quick turnaround in the public’s understanding in the issues at stake. It remains unclear exactly what kind of experience she will have in prison or what her doctors will recommend for her transition, but her challenges will be no different than those of transgender prisoners across the country.

In Massachusetts, transgender inmate Michelle Kosilek continues to fight for the sex reassignment surgery her doctors say she needs, especially since she’s engaged in serious self-harm because of depression resulting from not being able to transition. The state appealed a court decision in Kosilek’s favor, arguing that taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay for such surgery. Ironically, the state has spent more than double fighting her lawsuit what her surgery would have cost in the first place. According to Federal Judge Mark Wolf, denying Kosilek the surgery she needs violates her Eighth Amendment right because it constitutes “cruel and unusual punishment.”

Ophelia De’lonta, an inmate in Virginia, is similarly waiting to find out this week if she can be assessed for sex reassignment surgery. She has been provided hormone therapy, but the state refuses to evaluate her for further treatment, despite her multiple attempts at self-castration. De’lonta has been permitted to present as a woman in the all-male prison where she is incarcerated, raising concerns about her safety. One study suggests that trans women are 13 times more likely to be sexually assaulted in prisons, and often the “remedy” to protect them is to force them into solitary confinement, an extraordinary punishment in its own right.

Similar stories to Manning, Kosilek, and De’lonta will no doubt come forward. Chelsea Manning may have had to endure a barrage of transphobia from throughout the media, but as a result of public education, more trans prisoners might actually be able to access the medical care they deserve.