The lawsuit suggests that Virginia has violated the inmate’s constitutional rights by refusing to pay for breast removal surgery and other health care services.
A transgender men has filed a lawsuit against the Virginia Department of Corrections, claiming the agency denied him breast removal surgery and other procedures needed to treat diagnosed gender dysphoria.
The lawsuit, writes NBC News, was filed by Lambda Legal on behalf of Jason Yoakam, who has been incarcerated in the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women in Troy, Virginia, since 2004.
Yoakam, who was convicted of first-degree murder, was diagnosed with gender dysphoria in 2017.
Gender dysphoria, adds NBC News, refers to the psychological stress that results from an “incongruence between one’s sex assigned at birth and one’s gender identity.”
However, Yoakam’s diagnosis did not lead to any substantive treatment. He was not provided with mental health services or the breast removal surgery he requested.
In its lawsuit, Lambda Legal observed that Virginia Department of Corrections own doctors—as well as a transgender health specialist assigned to the agency—requested the procedures.
Yoakam suggested that the denial of these procedures violates his rights.
“The only thing I am asking is to be treated fairly and have access to the same standard of healthcare that other incarcerated people receive,” he said in a statement. “It has been traumatizing, isolating, and stigmatizing to be denied health care services to treat the gender dysphoria that VDOC’s own providers have diagnosed.”
Lambda Legal says that Virginia’s denial of care is contrary to the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment, as well as the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause.
The lawsuit notes that, after Yoakam’s diagnosis of gender dysphoria, he was provided with a chest binder intended to compress his breasts.
The binder was supposed to be a precursor to further care, including hormone treatments and a double mastectomy.
“Since he was issued a binder in FCCW, Mr. Yoakam keeps his binder on throughout all hours of the day, except when he must shower,” the lawsuit states. “He sleeps in his binder. As noted in his medical records, the binder sometimes is so tight that it cuts into Mr. Yoakam’s skin and causes him to bleed. He has also developed scars, rashes, and acne from the binder. These injuries have also led to infections from the binder. Unless he receives chest surgery, Mr. Yoakam will have to continue to use the binder and suffer the resulting injuries.”
Lambda Legal alleges that, deprived of treatment, Yoakam’s mental health has deteriorated.
Richard Saenz, a senior attorney with Lambda Legal, said the lawsuit is a clear-cut matter of inmates’ right to health care.
“This is about health care,” Saenz said. “Mr. Yoakam and other incarcerated people have a right to health care under the Constitution, and here the Virginia Department of Corrections is not providing him with the medical care that his doctors have deemed medically necessary for him.”