Transgender woman sues Georgia corrections officials again

A Black transgender woman on Monday sued Georgia prison officials, saying they have failed to protect her from repeated sexual assaults behind bars and failed to provide her with adequate medical treatment.

The Center for Constitutional Rights and the Southern Poverty Law Center filed the federal lawsuit on behalf of 42-year-old Ashley Diamond, who is imprisoned at Coastal State Prison in Chatham County. Diamond previously sued Georgia corrections officials in 2015 over similar allegations.

Diamond has identified as female since she was a child and began hormone therapy when she was 17, giving her full breasts, softer skin and a feminine appearance, her lawsuit said.

Shortly after her previous lawsuit was filed, the U.S. Department of Justice got involved, filing a brief that said prison officials must treat a gender identity condition just as they would treat any other medical or mental health condition. The filing said the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution requires them to provide individualized assessment and care for the condition.

Georgia prison officials then implemented a policy to ensure that prisoners with a possible gender dysphoria diagnosis are evaluated by qualified medical and mental health professionals, including an assessment of treatment and experiences before entering prison. The policy also said a treatment plan would be developed to address physical and mental health.

Diamond was paroled in August 2015 after serving about a third of her 12-year sentence for burglary and other convictions, according to prison records. She settled her lawsuit against the state in February 2016.

Diamond was sent back to prison on a parole violation in October 2019. Her lawyers said she has faced similar unconstitutional conditions since being returned to prisons housing men, including having been sexually assaulted more than 14 times in the past year, enduring constant sexual harassment and being denied treatment she needs for her gender dysphoria.

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The Associated Press doesn’t generally identify victims of sexual assault, but Diamond has repeatedly come forward publicly to put a spotlight on the treatment of transgender people in prison.

Georgia Department of Corrections spokeswoman Joan Heath said the agency hasn’t received the lawsuit and doesn’t comment on pending litigation.

“We sued Georgia prisons on Ashley’s behalf before and, unfortunately, we’re having to sue again to end the abhorrent treatment of transgender people, particularly transgender women of color, in Georgia’s prisons,” Beth Littrell, senior attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center, said in an emailed news release. “Five years after changing its policies in response to our first lawsuit, GDC tragically continues to flout its legal obligations to protect transgender people in its custody.”

The lawsuit seeks damages and legal costs and asks a judge to order prison officials to provide Diamond with medically necessary treatment for her gender dysphoria and to take steps to protect her from sexual assault, including by placing her in a women’s prison.

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