DOC settles trans rights lawsuit, to transfer first inmate under new policy

(KSTP) – The Minnesota Department of Corrections (DOC) says it will soon move a transgender inmate to a facility matching their gender identity, a first for the department.

It comes after the Minnesota DOC agreed to change its policy as part of a settlement with inmate Christina Lusk, who sued the department last year.

As part of the settlement, Lusk, a transgender woman who has been incarcerated at the Moose Lake prison for a 2018 drug conviction, will be moved to Shakopee, the state’s lone women-only prison. Additionally, the Minnesota DOC will pay Lusk $495,000, over half of which is legal fees, and reconnect her with gender-affirming care.

“The DOC is constitutionally obligated to provide medically necessary care for incarcerated people, which includes treatment for gender dysphoria,” DOC Commissioner Paul Schnell said in a statement. “Based on the facts of this specific case, the incarcerated person will now have access to the medical care she needs, she deserves, and we have a legal obligation to provide.”

Lusk has identified as a woman since 2008 and had sued over access to gender-affirming care and the transfer to Shakopee.

The terms of the settlement will also allow other transgender or gender non-conforming inmates to request placement at a facility matching their gender identity unless doing so would increase the risk of physical or sexual harm to the inmate or others in that facility, the DOC says. The department will also create gender identity committees at each facility to quickly review and address requests like single-cell assignments, showering arrangements and search protocols.

“Our resolution to this case was appropriate,” Lusk said in a statement. “Everybody needs to come together in unity, and embrace positive change. I believe we have made a big step toward allowing people to express who they truly are, and bring some sort of peace and happiness to their lives. This journey has brought extreme challenges, and I have endured so much. My hope is that nobody has to go through the same set of circumstances. I relied on my faith, and I never gave up hope. I can truly say that I am a strong, proud, transgender woman, and my name is Christina Lusk.”

Officials say the department currently houses 48 transgender people out of more than 8,000 inmates, adding there are currently five additional incarcerated persons who identify as transgender who have requested a transfer.

“It’s really important that transgender people are treated with the same rights, respect, and dignity as everyone else,” Jess Braverman, legal director for the non-profit that represented Lusk, Gender Justice, said.

“And, that’s true whether they’re inside or outside of an incarcerated setting,” Braverman added. “We really hope that this lawsuit, the settlement helps not only our client, but other incarcerated transgender people, and that’s Ms. Lusk’s hope as well.”

Lusk is set to be transferred next week, making Minnesota the 11th state, in addition to the District of Columbia, to approve transfers to facilities that match an inmate’s gender identity rather than what they were assigned at birth.