Federal Judge Still Undecided, Notes ‘Sham Process’ in Transgender Woman’s Case against NC Department of Adult Correction 

By Cindy Chen

CHARLOTTE, NC – A federal judge has not yet issued a final decision in Kanautica Zayre-Brown v. NC Department of Adult Correction (DAC), but did deny both parties motions for summary judgment in the gender-affirming surgery case, according to the ACLU.

The ACLU said in a statement, “The judge found that only a few narrow matters of fact precluded him from deciding yet whether the prison system must provide gender-affirming surgery for Mrs. Zayre-Brown, an incarcerated transgender woman, and will hold an evidentiary hearing to resolve those issues.”

U.S. District Court Judge Max O. Cogburn, Jr., added the ACLU, “confirmed that gender dysphoria is a serious medical condition requiring treatment, and, for some people, denying access to gender-affirming surgery is unconstitutional and medically unacceptable.”

“The decision also strongly suggested that the state prison system may be imposing a de facto ban on gender-affirming surgery for incarcerated people. The prison system has a policy that permits gender-affirming surgery, but it has received more than 30 such requests and denied all of them,” noted the ACLU in its statement.

“It says that it further recognizes that gender reassignment surgery can be medically necessary in some cases,” wrote Judge Cogburn. “In determining medical necessity, it cannot then set up a sham process where the answer is always no.”

The complaint names key officials including the N.C. Department of Public Safety, DPS Secretary Eddie Buffaloe, and Prisons Commissioner Todd Ishee. It accuses them of violating both the U.S. and North Carolina constitutions, as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Despite assessments from healthcare providers within the prison system affirming the necessity of surgery for Zayre-Brown, the DAC has steadfastly refused to provide the required care, said the complaint.

Zayre-Brown’s experience extends beyond medical neglect, according to the pleading, that cites additional instances of discrimination where Zayre-Brown was consistently misgendered and subjected to mental and psychological distress during her time at Harnett Correctional Institution, a male prison facility.

Zayre-Brown testified: “[H]aving to fight for so many years to obtain the medical care I desperately need has been exhausting and dispiriting.”

Specifically, the lawsuit cites the fact, despite the existence of a policy within the prison system allowing for such surgeries, more than 30 requests for gender-affirming surgery had been submitted, with each one being summarily denied.

Advocates for LGBTQ rights and racial justice have rallied behind Zayre-Brown, denouncing the denial of necessary medical care as a violation of her fundamental human rights, said the ACLU.

Kendra Johnson, executive director of Equality NC, emphasized the importance of providing Zayre-Brown with essential care, stating, “DPS’s denial of required medical care is a continual and prolonged denial of her basic human rights and dignity.”

ACLU staff attorney Jaclyn Maffetore notes the state’s failure to meet its obligations, emphasizing the urgent need for treatment, charging, “Mrs. Zayre-Brown has endured years of suffering as a result of the inhumane denial of treatment by DAC officials.

Added Maffetore, “No one who is incarcerated should be forced to endure a dangerous medical condition without the treatment they need. Gender-affirming care is life-saving care, and we will continue to advocate for all transgender people and those who are incarcerated in North Carolina.”

About The Author

The Vanguard Court Watch operates in Yolo, Sacramento and Sacramento Counties with a mission to monitor and report on court cases. Anyone interested in interning at the Courthouse or volunteering to monitor cases should contact the Vanguard at info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org - please email info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org if you find inaccuracies in this report.

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