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ACLU Sues On Behalf Of Oregon Transgender Inmate Denied Treatment

The ACLU of Oregon announced Monday it has on behalf of a transgender woman who is an inmate in a state prison. The group says the Oregon Department of Corrections has refused to provide her medical care for gender dysphoria

Michelle Wright, 25, serving time for an attempted robbery. Wright was born male but has identified as and dressed as a female since she was a teenager.

The ACLU said doctors with the Oregon Department of Corrections have diagnosed her with gender dysphoria. The group also said Wright has requested hormone therapy and other forms of treatment close to 100 times.

Denied that treatment, they said Wright has repeatedly attempted suicide and self-castration.

"I have been aware for quite some time that I am a female inside but quite clearly my insides are not matched to my exterior," said Wright, in a pre-recorded video statement from prison. "At the beginning of my time, I was pretty afraid to pursue being transgender while I was incarcerated."

Wright described being threatened by prison staff after she decided to try to pursue treatment.

"Not to long after, I just decided to cut my arm and bleed out till I had been found unconscious," she said.

Wright's mother, Victoria Wright, also spoke at a press conference Wednesday and expressed support for her daughter.

“She should be held accountable for her mistakes, but I’m worried she’s being damaged in prison in a way that may not be fixable. It breaks my heart,” she said.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Eugene, alleges that denying Wright treatment for her gender dysphoria amounts to cruel and unusual punishment, violating her constitutional rights. 

In 2015, the U.S. Department of Justice in a case brought by a transgender woman incarcerated in Georgia who sued over her lack of access to treatment for gender dysphoria. The DOJ argued Georgia's  so-called "freeze-frame" policy violated inmates constitutional rights. Under freeze-frame policies, state prisons allow transgender inmates to receive hormones and other types of therapy only if they started them before their incarceration.

The inmate in that case, who also alleged she had been repeatedly sexually assaulted in prison, was released early and received a $250,000 settlement from the Georgia Department of Corrections.

The Oregon Department of Corrections would not comment on the specifics of the case. Spokeswoman Betty Bernt shared a written statement.  "DOC has been proactive in addressing the needs of incarcerated transgender people," she wrote. "DOC looks forward to its continued work on these issues and to responding to the specific complaints raised in the litigation in court."


<p>Michelle Wright, lower middle, and family</p>

Courtesy of the Oregon ACLU


Michelle Wright, lower middle, and family

Copyright 2016 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Amelia Templeton is a multimedia reporter and producer for Oregon Public Broadcasting, covering Portland city hall, justice and local news. She was previously a reporter for EarthFix, an award-winning public media project covering the environment in the Northwest.