A Minnesota transgender inmate who is serving prison time on a drug charge has successfully sued the state Department of Corrections for discrimination and will be transferred to a women’s facility from all-male prison.
Christina Lusk, 56, will also be receiving $495,000 in financial compensation and vaginoplasty as she is sent to an all-women facility in Shakopee this week after claiming sexual and verbal abuse in an all-male facility.
Lusk, who is legally recognized as a female, came out as transgender 14 years ago, started hormone therapy, and legally changed her name in 2018. The following year she pleaded guilty to a felony drug possession charge.
The settlement also promises Lusk will be given further gender-affirming healthcare and will strengthen its policies to protect transgender inmates.
‘This journey has brought extreme challenges, and I have endured so much. My hope is that nobody has to go through the same set of circumstances. I relied on my faith, and I never gave up hope. I can truly say that I am a strong, proud, transgender woman, and my name is Christina Lusk,’ she said in a statement.
Paul Schnell, the Minnesota DOC Commissioner, said that the state is ‘constitutionally obligated’ to treat gender dysphoria and will do so for Lusk, according to Fox 9.
‘Based on the facts of this specific case, the incarcerated person will now have access to the medical care she needs, she deserves, and we have a legal obligation to provide,’ he said in a statement.
A department of corrections press release on the settlement includes promises that gender non-conforming inmates will be placed at facilities matching their gender identities.
They will grant those requests ‘unless the requested placement would pose a heightened risk of physical or sexual harm to that person or those housed in the preferred facility.’
‘Everybody needs to come together in unity, and embrace positive change. I believe we have made a big step toward allowing people to express who they truly are, and bring some sort of peace and happiness to their lives,’ Lusk added.
Jess Braverman, an attorney for the group Gender Justice, which is representing Lusk along with the Minneapolis law firm of Robins Kaplan, considers the settlement a positive step.
‘Minnesota was the first state in the country to expressly protect transgender people in our anti-discrimination laws. But sometimes it feels like we’re the last ones to get it right. I think this goes a long way in showing that Minnesota is moving forward,’ she said in a statement.
‘We are fulfilling that promise, and we are going to give transgender people the dignity they deserve, whether they’re in an institutional setting, whether they’re incarcerated or not.’
Braverman had said her client was unsafe in Moose Lake.
‘She’s a woman, and suddenly she’s placed in a men’s facility. She’s in a locked cell with a number of men, and she’s really exposed to harassment and violence in that setting,’ Braverman said.
While in prison, Lusk had also been denied gender-affirming surgery by corrections officials – despite doctors approving the procedure before she was incarcerated, the lawsuit says. She is set to be released in 2024.
Lusk had been seeking a vaginoplasty since her incarceration but DOC Medical Director James Amsterdam determined that she should not be allowed the genital surgery whilst in prison, but ‘could pursue that after release’, according to the lawsuit.
Lusk wrote in the complaint: ‘I have been diagnosed with severe Gender Dysphoria. I have attempted suicide four times due to my severe distress caused by my GD as well as self-mutilation. My mental capacity is under control, and I am able to make good decisions as far as surgery.
‘I have letters of support from my primary physician, my gender specialist, my therapist, as well as my psychiatrist, only two letters are required for surgery but I go up and beyond what is required.’
The move by the corrections department to hold Lusk in a men’s prison and deny her the surgery is unconstitutional and a violation of her human rights, according to the lawsuit.
‘Christina Lusk is recognized legally and socially as female – including by the state of Minnesota. Yet, the Minnesota DOC treats Ms Lusk as a man simply because she is transgender,’ the lawsuit stated.
Lusk has been reprimanded for having breasts and wearing women’s clothing, yet also scolded for going without a bra while her bras were in the wash, the lawsuit contends.
Lusk filed the first of two complaints with the state Department of Human Rights in early 2020. She alleged that prison staff housed her in a room with seven men, required her to change her clothes and use the bathroom with men, and called her by her former name.
Both requests to be moved were denied without explanation, according to the suit.