The National Center for Transgender Equality is proud to have joined seven other organizations last week in filing a friend-of-the-court brief with the First Circuit federal appeals court in the case of Kosilek v. Spencer. The case, which has received significant public attention in recent months, is the latest in a series in which Massachusetts prison officials have refused to provide medically necessary treatment to transgender prisoners. In September, a federal court ordered the state to provide sex reassignment surgery for Michelle Kosilek after prison doctors determined it was the only adequate treatment for her severe gender dysphoria.
- The Massachusetts Department of Corrections’s actions in denying medically necessary sex reassignment surgery reflect – and, sadly, affirm – the deeply-rooted discomfort with transgender people prevalent in our society. Transgender people are subject to widespread negative attitudes and social disapproval and face discrimination at alarming rates in every sphere of society. Transgender people have not achieved the gains in social acceptance and understanding that lesbians and gay men have; the place of transgender people in our society is more akin to what lesbians and gay men experienced decades ago.
- DOC’s conduct also reflects the disparity between the scientific consensus that sex reassignment surgery is essential medical care and the popular perception that it is frivolous and bizarre. A long history of sensationalized accounts of “sex change” operations from the 1930s to the present has significantly contributed to this public misunderstanding. In fact, there has been a relative scarcity of media that advances in the popular consciousness an accurate medical understanding of the need for sex reassignment surgery and the profound harm caused by withholding such treatment.