Lambda Legal sues DOC on behalf of incarcerated trans man denied care

jason yoakam doc
Jason Yoakam. Photo courtesy Lambda Legal.

Lambda Legal filed a federal lawsuit against the Virginia Department of Corrections on behalf of a transgender man incarcerated at the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women who has been denied medically necessary and gender-affirming care, one of the first lawsuits in the country filed on behalf of an incarcerated transgender man.

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia on behalf of Jason Yoakam, transgender man who was denied a bilateral mastectomy, or chest surgery, by the VDOC, which claimed the surgery was not medically necessary treatment for gender dysphoria.

The VDOC also denied Yoakam treatment from qualified mental healthcare providers and other reasonable accommodations.

“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. 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,” Yoakam said.

Yoakam contends that the denial of surgery violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment and argues that denying medical treatment on the basis of his transgender status violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Yoakam also raises statutory claims under the Americans with Disability Act and under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act based on his disability of gender dysphoria, a medical condition that some transgender people experience as significant distress when their gender identity is not congruent with the sex assigned at birth.

The lawsuit also brings a claim under Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, a nondiscrimination provision in the federal civil rights law that prohibit discrimination in health care setting based on sex.

“Mr. Yoakam is not seeking special treatment, just access to medically necessary health care and reasonable accommodations for his gender dysphoria,” said Richard Saenz, Senior Attorney and Criminal Justice and Police Misconduct Strategist at Lambda Legal. “Every incarcerated person has a right to basic health care based on their medical needs – and should not face discrimination because of their sex. We hope that the Court affirms that denial of this safe and medically effective treatment for transgender men like Mr. Yoakam is a clear violation of their constitutional and statutory rights.”

Robins Kaplan Partner Kellie Lerner adds: “We allege and look forward to prosecuting our claims that this kind of discriminatory treatment is unconstitutional, not only in the case of Mr. Yoakam, but for countless other transgender inmates who are facing similar pain and anguish by being denied basic care and accommodations.”


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