Because she’s one of the first Democrats to officially throw her hat in the ring for the 2020 presidential race, Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D-MA) record has been under a lot of scrutiny over the past week.
When it comes to LGBTQ issues, she has been a very consistent ally, with one exception, which her campaign has addressed for the first time.
In 2012, when Warren was facing off against Republican incumbent Scott Brown, a transgender inmate was suing the Massachusetts prison system after being denied transition medical care. Michelle Kosilek had fought for decades to receive the gender confirmation surgery her doctors said was medically necessary, but the Massachusetts Department of Corrections refused to provide it. This was despite the fact that she had been treated for depression and multiple attempts to self-harm her genitalia.
In September of that year, a federal judge ruled that Kosilek should receive the surgery she had been prescribed. Because it was one of the first major cases of a transgender prisoner seeking medical care, the ruling became a very hot topic. Both Warren and Brown were asked about it on the campaign trail, and both criticized the ruling. Brown called it an “outrageous abuse of taxpayer dollars,” and Warren similarly said in a radio interview, “I have to say, I don’t think it’s a good use of taxpayer dollars.”
Two years later, an appeals court ruled against Kosilek, denying her once again the surgery her doctors said was necessary. In the years since however, many similar cases have arisen across the country. Numerous federal courts have ruled against prisons attempting to deny transition-related treatment to transgender individuals in their care, concluding that such denials constituted cruel and unusual punishment. Likewise, visibility for transgender people has also exploded over that time, with TIME deeming 2014 “the transgender tipping point.”
Kosilek herself had responded to Warren’s comment in a 2014 interview, calling it “disheartening” that Warren would think that her right to proper health care should be diminished because of her crime. “You don’t lose your right to humanity and dignity when you go to prison,” she said. “We don’t go to prison for punishment. We come to prison as punishment. This is what a lot of people, including our elected officials, don’t understand.”
In all that time, Warren has never addressed her remark. Even in 2015, as the Supreme Court was denying Kosilek’s appeal and another case was playing out in California, Warren still did not respond to the Washington Blade’s requests for comment about her 2012 remark.
That’s despite the fact that she has otherwise had an immaculate record on LGBTQ issues. The Human Rights Campaign has given Warren 100-percent scores for all of her years in the Senate, and in 2016 she joined a group of other senators calling on the Veterans Administration to eliminate its blanket ban on medically necessary transition-related surgeries for transgender veterans. Over the past year, she’s been a vocal opponent of attempts by President Trump to ban transgender people from serving in the military and erase transgender people from being recognized under federal law.
— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) October 26, 2018
Now, Warren has addressed the 2012 comment as well.
In response to a ThinkProgress inquiry, a spokesperson for Warren’s presidential exploratory committee said in a statement: “Senator Warren supports access to medically necessary services, including transition-related surgeries. This includes procedures taking place at the VA, in the military, or at correctional facilities.”
That appears to address the only discrepancy in Warren’s record on LGBTQ issues, but it might not be the last time the issue comes up in the lead-up to 2020.
That 2015 case in California that was developing as Kosilek’s fight came to an end. It was then-State Attorney General Kamala Harris (D) who was asking the courts not to require surgery be provided for Michelle -Lael Norsworthy. Now the junior senator from California, Harris will be launching a book tour in the coming week in advance of an expected announcement of her own presidential run. As with Warren, Harris’ opposition to allowing surgery for a transgender prisoner is one of the only exceptions to her support for LGBTQ equality.