The Boston Globe has published a particularly transphobic column today by Lawrence Harmon, negatively responding to this week’s court decision that a transgender inmate should receive sex reassignment surgery as prescribed by her doctors. Not only does Harmon rudely refer to Michelle Kosilek with male pronouns, but he uses the case to undercut the medical needs of all transgender people:
Wolf put a lot of stock in medical experts, especially prison doctors, who testified that Kosilek might kill herself if denied the surgery. The prisoner has made some attempts. But the fact that Kosilek is drawing breath today after more than 20 years’ imprisonment — including a long period without hormone treatments — undermines that argument. If the goal is to keep Kosilek safe from self-harm, it can be done with psychiatric medication and careful observation.
Many prisoners are stunningly manipulative. Some maim themselves in the hopes of receiving pain medication. Others weave elaborate cons because they have nothing else to do. There may be more going on in Kosilek’s mind than Wolf or the psychiatrists know. It’s another reason why Wolf should have looked for a more moderate way to ensure humane treatment for the prisoner.
Not only did Kosilek attempt to kill herself twice, even while taking the anti-depressant Prozac, but she even attempted to castrate herself. To force her to live in such poor mental health instead of allowing her to receive the medical treatment her doctors have prescribed constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. Contrary to Harmon’s vindictive perspective, prisoners actually have rights beyond just being kept alive, and that includes proper medical treatment. They shouldn’t have to be “manipulative” for that basic level of fairness, let alone spend 12 years in court, as Kosilek has.
Harmon makes one valid point, albeit in the most backward way: all transgender people should have access to health care that meets their needs, and many insurance providers do not cover sex reassignment surgeries, deeming them “cosmetic.” But Kosilek is not covered by private health insurance; she is the responsibility of the state, and as Yvonne Abraham wrote today, “We are supposed to adhere to higher standards of humanity than those of the people we imprison for violent crimes. That’s what gives us the credibility to sit in judgment in the first place.”
Transgender people deserve the right to their most basic identity, whether they are murder convicts or not. They also deserve public advocates who actually care about their well-being, and the Boston Globe should take responsibility not to print such offensive and poorly informed columns in its pages.