UMATILLA, Ore. — The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed a lawsuit against the Oregon Department of Corrections for denying hormonal treatment to a man who was diagnosed in 2014 with gender dysphoria.
Michale James Wright, 25, who goes by the name Michelle, has identified as a woman since he was 16 and obtained counseling for his gender identity struggles five years ago. He has been in the custody of the Department of Corrections since 2013 for attempted armed robbery.
Wright says that a sexual assault he suffered in 2012 caused a downward spiral in his behavior, which led to the robbery attempt.
“I have been aware for quite some time that I am a female inside,” he said in an interview from the Two Rivers Correctional Facility in Umatilla posted this week by The Oregonian. “At the beginning of my time, I was pretty afraid to pursue being transgender while being incarcerated. A large part of that fear is that I wouldn’t receive any form of treatment for it, while at the same time, the hateful behavior that would follow me being who I am…”
“Finally, it came to a point when I had completely stated that I can’t not live as who I am anymore. I have to,” he said.
In 2014, while incarcerated, Wright was officially diagnosed with gender dysphoria, which the ACLU notes, is “a recognized condition in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders.”
According to the organization, Wright has repeatedly requested to obtain hormonal therapy, as well as feminine products and undergarments, in his quest to transition into a woman, but has been denied. He has subsequently attempted suicide on several occasions.
“Ms. Wright has requested medically necessary care, including hormone therapy, nearly 100 times to treat her gender dysphoria, but all of her requests have been and continue to be denied or ignored,” it states in its legal complaint. “As a direct result of her continued denial of care, Ms. Wright has repeatedly attempted suicide and engaged in acts of self-harm…”
The ACLU says that after several attempts to harm or kill himself, Wright was placed in a Disciplinary Segregation Unit for suicide watch, but was called names or mocked by staffers. It also takes issue that Wright has continued to be referred to with male pronouns instead of female.
Officials with the Department of Corrections recommended that Wright “participate in ‘treatment opportunities’ … ‘in order to decrease self-harm, improve communication skills and increase his ability to tolerate stress,'” in stating that his problems with anxiety and depression were a priority, not gender dysphoria.
The ACLU has therefore filed suit, alleging that the Oregon Department of Corrections has deprived Wright of his constitutional rights in denying both hormonal treatment and gender identity-specific counseling.
“As a direct and foreseeable consequence of Defendants’ conscious disregard of the obvious need to train personnel, Ms. Wright has been denied medically necessary care for her gender dysphoria, in violation of the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment, and fundamental notions of decency,” the complaint reads.
The Department of Corrections has declined to comment on the matter, but spokeswoman Elizabeth Craig told The Oregonian that the department “has been proactive in addressing the needs of incarcerated transgender people” and “looks forward to its continued work on these issues and to responding to the specific complaints raised in the litigation in court.”
As previously reported, not all believe that hormonal therapy and plastic surgery is the answer to gender dysphoria. Walt Heyer, a 75-year-old man who obtained a sex change operation in the 1980’s to live as a woman for eight years before reverting back to his biological gender, now leads a ministry in which he shares his story with the world of how Christ redeemed his life and gave him hope.
“Nobody’s ever born a transgender,” he told the Daily Mail last January. “They’re manufactured as a result of something, a developmental childhood issue that has yet to be determined for many people.”
“All of them have some level of depression, and we’re not treating them,” Heyer lamented. “We’re just cutting off body parts and giving them a new name and a new gender.”
“God designed man; He designed women,” he also said in a video recorded last year. “God will redeem the lives of people who struggle with gender identity issues just like I did. He redeemed my life, and I’ve been free from it as a result of that.”