The Crusader Newspaper Group

ACLU sues Indiana Department of Correction over new law banning gender-affirming surgeries

A federal lawsuit filed Monday claims the new law violates the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments.

A new Indiana law that prohibits gender-affirming sexual reassignment surgery for inmates is at the heart of a federal lawsuit filed Monday, which claims the state’s correctional agency denied the procedure to a transgender woman who is currently incarcerated.

The legal challenge was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana against the Indiana Department of Correction (DOC) by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Indiana.

ACLU of Indiana Legal Director Ken Falk (From the ACLU of Indiana website)

The DOC’s denial of the surgery is the result of a law passed during the 2023 legislative session, which bans state and federal dollars from being used for gender-affirming sexual reassignment surgery for offenders imprisoned in Indiana.

“The DOC cannot deny necessary treatment to incarcerated people simply on the basis that they are transgender. To do so is a form of discrimination,” said ACLU of Indiana Legal Director Ken Falk in a statement. “Gender-affirming care is life-saving care. If the legislature can deny a form of healthcare arbitrarily, they could just as easily deny other lifesaving treatments to people who are incarcerated.”

DOC did not immediately return a request for comment.

Seeking out treatment

Autumn Cordellioné is an adult transgender female prisoner confined in the Branchville Correctional Facility, an all-male institution within the DOC, according to the lawsuit. State records indicate Cordellioné is serving a 55-year murder sentence.

Cordellioné has identified as female since she was six years old, the lawsuit continues.

In 2020, while incarcerated, she was diagnosed with gender dysphoria and was prescribed a female hormone and a testosterone blocker, both of which she has “consistently been prescribed and taken since that time.”

The medications have altered her body “such that she is feminine in appearance.” The lawsuit said Cordellioné also lives as a woman to the extent possible in a prison designated to house only men. She has been permitted to obtain bras, underwear, make up, and form-fitting clothing, according to court documents.

Although the hormones have helped, Cordellioné said she continues to experience serious depression and anxiety.

Cordellioné claimed in the lawsuit that long before her diagnosis, she suffered from depression and anxiety caused by her gender dysphoria, “and by her recognition that she is a woman trapped in a man’s body.”

That caused her to engage in self-harm and attempt suicide, the lawsuit said, “because she could not stand the fact that her sex at birth fails to match the fact that she is a woman and cannot tolerate her male body.”

The lawsuit maintains that gender-affirming surgery for Cordellioné is medically necessary so that her physical appearance aligns with her gender identity.

“Despite the receipt of hormonal therapy, she continues to suffer the serious negative symptoms of gender dysphoria. Specifically, her genitals remain a source of extreme and continuing distress, which is getting worse. The very sight of her genitals causes her to have great anxiety. She has soiled herself rather than use the toilet because of the stress of seeing her genitals,” lawyers wrote in the lawsuit. “Her gender dysphoria and the continuing debilitating symptoms that she suffers because of it represents a serious medical need that must be treated.”

Cordellioné is seeking an orchiectomy to remove her testes and a vaginoplasty to construct a vagina.

Without the surgery, transgender women “may resort to attempting auto-castration in order to alleviate their distress,” the lawsuit says.

New law prohibits gender-affirming surgeries

Cordellioné has repeatedly requested gender affirmation surgery but was denied by DOC. Lawyers said she has fully exhausted the DOC’s grievance system.

Monday’s lawsuit claims the new law violates the Eighth Amendment, on the basis that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled denial of necessary medical care for incarcerated individuals is a violation of the Constitution’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

Katie Blair, the director of advocacy and public policy for ACLU Indiana (From ACLU of Indiana’s website)

The ACLU argues that medical care related to transgender patients “has been found by every reputable medical organization to be necessary and even lifesaving.”

Additionally, the lawsuit claims the new law violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

“Some Indiana legislators are introducing more and more radical agendas, often pushed by misinformation and out-of-state extremists,” said Katie Blair, ACLU of Indiana’s director of advocacy and public policy, in a statement. “These legislators are not only ignoring their constituents’ values, they are often ignoring legal precedent and opting to pass laws that openly infringe on Hoosiers’ protected rights. It is not uncommon for us to file a lawsuit or two at the end of each legislative session, but the number of lawsuits we have had to file as a result of harmful legislation passed during the 2023 legislative session is particularly alarming.”

Now, Cordellioné is asking a judge to issue an injunction, allowing her to receive gender-affirming surgery. Ultimately, the lawsuit seeks to strike down the law in whole on the basis that it’s unconstitutional and discriminatory.

Before the law took effect July 1, those incarcerated within DOC facilities, such as state prisons, were able to undergo transition-related procedures. A DOC spokesperson said that no inmates had done so yet, however.

Republican lawmakers who supported the bill said they want to protect taxpayers from paying for an “unnecessary” procedure.

Democrats and LGBTQ advocates have consistently pushed back, holding that the ban is not about saving state resources, but rather, is part of a “hateful” GOP-backed agenda to enact anti-transgender legislation.

This article originally appeared on Indiana Capital Chronicle.

Recent News

Scroll to Top