COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A transgender prison inmate who complained about losing her breast tissue and growing facial hair after her hormone treatments were stopped must receive the treatments for the rest of her time behind bars, a federal judge ruled Friday.
Inmate Whitney Lee had undergone continuous hormone therapy since 1999 until the correction department abruptly halted the treatments in 2012. Lee, whose legal name is still Antione Lee, says she suffered a medical setback and depression when the treatments stopped.
After a two-day hearing, Judge Algenon Marbley ordered the state on Friday to permanently continue the treatments. He had issued an order last month that they be temporarily continued until a hearing.
The Department of Rehabilitation and Correction declined to comment Friday. The prisons agency had said a psychiatrist determined Lee lacks the criteria for gender identity disorder and the therapy can’t be justified.
Lee’s attorney, Ngozi Ndulue, said the judge’s decision was the right one and means Lee will get the treatment until released from prison in about seven months. Lee’s damages claim for $75,000 is still in place, Ndulue said.
The 36-year-old Lee is housed with men at Mansfield Correctional Institution, where she is serving a three-year sentence on forgery and theft charges out of Hamilton County.
Lee had previously received the treatments at home, in federal prison and in the Hamilton County Justice Center, according to a request for an emergency order filed by the Cincinnati-based Ohio Justice & Policy Center. That included estrogen treatment approved by prison authorities while Lee was imprisoned in 2009 and 2010, the request said.
Lee has been living as a woman since age 18, the center’s complaint said.
Without the treatments, Lee lost breast tissue, her voice deepened, her skin became coarser and she began growing facial hair, among other symptoms, the request said. She also has grown irritable and angry and was placed on suicide watch, according to the request.
“Deprivation of hormone treatment wreaks havoc on Ms. Lee’s physical and mental health and puts her life in danger,” it said.
The prisons department argued that Lee didn’t exhaust the prison grievance procedures and that the case should be dismissed. It cited other cases, including that of a Texas inmate, in which courts have upheld prisons’ decisions not to administer the treatment.
The state said that even if its medical diagnosis were called into question, it would be at most an issue of medical malpractice, not a violation of constitutional rights.
Andrew Welsh-Huggins can be reached on Twitter at https://twitter.com/awhcolumbus.