A transgender woman who sued the Minnesota Department of Corrections for her treatment while in prison has reached a settlement in which the DOC has agreed to transfer her to a woman’s prison and pay her $495,000.
Christina Lusk will transfer to the women’s facility in Shakopee next week, marking the first time a transgender person has moved to a facility matching their gender identity in Minnesota.
Allegations of ongoing harassment
When Lusk was arrested in 2018 on drug charges, she was in the process of scheduling her transition surgery, according to Gender Justice, the legal nonprofit that represented her. Then, after she was incarcerated, Lusk asked the DOC to let her continue with the surgery, and provided the agency with her medical records, but was denied.
Jess Braverman, legal director at Gender Justice, says Lusk was harassed by inmates and DOC guards, which took a toll on her mental health.
"Inmates would heckle her, heckle her roommates… call her ‘it,’ that sort of thing. And then there were staff who would say things to her, such as, 'You know, you're a man in a men's prison. I'm not going to treat you like a woman. I'm not going to use your proper name and pronouns," Braverman said.
In the settlement, the DOC also agreed to provide Lusk with gender-affirming health care and strengthen its policies protecting transgender inmates. Lusk called the settlement "appropriate" in a statement issued by Gender Justice, a legal nonprofit that represented her in the case.
"This journey has brought extreme challenges, and I have endured so much. My hope is that nobody has to go through the same set of circumstances. I relied on my faith, and I never gave up hope. I can truly say that I am a strong, proud, transgender woman, and my name is Christina Lusk," she said in a press release.
In January, the DOC adopted its new transgender policy, though this is the first time it has been implemented. Minnesota now joins 10 other states and the District of Columbia in approving transfers to facilities matching an incarcerated person’s chosen gender identity.
"The DOC is constitutionally obligated to provide medically necessary care for incarcerated people, which includes treatment for gender dysphoria," said DOC Commissioner Paul Schnell. "Based on the facts of this specific case, the incarcerated person will now have access to the medical care she needs, she deserves, and we have a legal obligation to provide."
According to a DOC press release, the new policy allows transgender or gender non-conforming inmates to request placement at a facility matching their gender identity. The DOC says it will grant the requests "unless the requested placement would pose a heightened risk of physical or sexual harm to that person or those housed in the preferred facility."
Braverman called the settlement an "important step" toward the DOC fulfilling its responsibilities to transgender inmates.
"Minnesota was the first state in the country to expressly protect transgender people in our anti-discrimination laws. But sometimes it feels like we're the last ones to get it right. I think this goes a long way in showing that Minnesota is moving forward," she said. "We are fulfilling that promise, and we are going to give transgender people the dignity they deserve, whether they're in an institutional setting, whether they're incarcerated or not."