Prison system must accommodate transgender inmate, judge emphatically orders

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Accusing them of ignorance and bigotry, a federal judge this week excoriated Florida corrections officials for refusing to accommodate a transgender inmate, despite the prisoner’s repeated suicide attempts and persistent requests to wear bras and panties and have access to women’s grooming items.

U.S. District Judge Mark Walker on Wednesday ordered the Florida Department of Corrections to continue providing hormone treatments to Reiyn Keohane, who was born a male but began identifying as female at age 8 and started wearing women’s clothing, makeup and hairstyles at 14, according to court records.

The judge also ordered the state to allow Keohane, who had begun hormone therapy before she started serving a 15-year sentence for attempted murder in 2014, to wear women’s undergarments and have access to grooming items available to female inmates.

After Keohane sued the Department of Corrections and several prison officials, including Secretary Julie Jones, in 2016, she was allowed to resume the hormone treatments. But prison officials continued to refuse to allow Keohane, who is incarcerated at the all-male Walton Correctional Institution, to wear women’s undergarments, let her hair grow or groom as a woman.

The hormone therapy is causing “feminizing” changes to Keohane’s body, but she is forced “to live outwardly as a man in ways that, though seemingly banal to some, strike at the heart of what it means to be perceived as a man or woman,” Walker wrote in a blistering, 61-page order.

Walker in a footnote explained that he used female pronouns when referring to Keohane “out of respect” for the inmate.

The judge chastised Jones and the department for being “indifferent” to the prisoner’s needs, scolding that “if Ms. Keohane’s treatment in defendant’s custody isn’t deliberate indifference, then surely there is no such beast.”

“Defendant’s deliberate denial of care — that is, the denial of access to female clothing and grooming standards despite its knowledge of her diagnosis and her history of self-harm — has caused Ms. Keohane to continue to suffer unnecessarily and poses a substantial risk of harm to her health,” he wrote.

Walker accused state officials of providing “shifting explanations” for the denial of hormone treatment and access to such things as female clothing.

The case is “about whether the law, and this court by extension, recognizes Ms. Keohane’s humanity as a transgender woman,” Walker wrote.

“The answer is simple. It does, and I do,” he went on.


U.S. District Judge Mark Walker
Miami Herald file photo