Florida Is Trying to Appeal A Ruling That It Must Recognize A Trans Inmate As Female

Florida Is Trying to Appeal A Ruling That It Must Recognize A Trans Inmate As Female

A dozen advocacy organizations are going to bat against Florida for trying to appeal a court order that it must affirm a transgender inmate’s gender.

Alleging that prison staff denied her prescribed hormones for more than two years and refused to allow her to transition socially, Reiyn Keohane filed suit against the Florida Department of Corrections (DOC) in 2016 and won in federal court. The case sought to throw out the state’s “freeze-frame” policy, which prevents transgender people from accessing gender-affirming care they were not receiving prior to incarceration.

Advocates say the 2016 ruling by Chief United States District Judge Mark Walker is among the most substantial trans-affirming decisions in a transgender prison discrimination case.

“Ultimately, this case is about whether the law, and this Court by extension, recognizes Ms. Keohane’s humanity as a transgender woman,” Walker wrote in 2016. “The answer is simple. It does, and I do.”

Keohane was issued hormones after her suit, but the DOC is now appealing the ruling to the 11th Circuit Court of appeals.

Keohane claims that DOC refused her medical transition, denied her female undergarments and repeatedly forcibly shaved her head. Her complaint alleges that DOC’s refusal to allow her to transition resulted in suicidality and self-harm.

Daniel Tilley, staff attorney at American Civil Liberties of Florida, is fighting Keohane’s case and said that DOC’s continued refusal to allow her to transition exacerbates her suffering.

“It’s been a really long and brutal journey for her,” Tilley told INTO, noting that Keohane’s request for social transition has dragged on for five years.

In a letter published by the ACLU, Keohane says she has been beaten in custody and was called “a punk, a sissy, and a faggot.”

“I have been denied at every level, told by doctors that I’m not transgender, refused hormone therapy even though I had taken it on the streets, and had to go weeks without being able to shave after being put in confinement for wearing women’s clothing or standing up for my rights,” she wrote.

Tilley questions Florida’s compliance with the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), which requires correctional facilities to place transgender inmates on a case-by-case basis where they will be safest. According to Tilley, DOC has defaulted to housing transgender women based on genitalia alone. Keohane is housed in a men’s facility but wants to be housed with women, Tilley said.

The Florida Department of Corrections said it was working on a response to INTO‘s media inquiry, which included the number of transgender women inmates housed in women’s facilities and its PREA compliance. 

Eleven advocacy organizations joined the ACLU on Keohane’s behalf Wednesday, filing a friend-of-the-court brief. They include Lambda Legal, Transgender Law Center, Black and Pink, the National Center for Transgender Equality, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and the GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, among others.

Last year, Missouri’s “freeze-frame” policy was also thrown out in federal court after transgender inmate Jessica Hicklin successfully sued for gender-affirming hair removal and canteen items.

Header image via Getty


Kate Sosin 

Kate Sosin is a trans news and features reporter and former associate editor of Chicago’s Windy City Times.

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