Content warning: Mentions of self-harm
As the courts have affirmed many times, the government has a constitutional obligation to provide appropriate medical care to the people it has chosen to incarcerate. As long as someone is incarcerated, it is the State of Connecticut’s moral and constitutional responsibility to provide them with the medical care they need to be healthy and alive. That responsibility includes individualized gender-affirming care, which is often critical for transgender people’s health, well-being, and survival.
As the American Medical Association wrote in 2019, “Prisoners have a fundamental right to access necessary and effective medical care, and that includes the full range of treatments for gender dysphoria.”
But when Veronica-May Clark repeatedly asked the Connecticut Department of Correction (DOC) for medical and mental healthcare to treat her gender dysphoria, the DOC repeatedly denied her requests. As a result, her symptoms worsened, and she experienced serious self-harm, leading to her hospitalization.
In 2019, Veronica-May sued the DOC for violating her eighth amendment right to freedom from cruel and unusual punishment and her fourteenth amendment right to equal treatment under the law. On April 30, 2021, the ACLU of Connecticut joined the case by becoming her lawyers.
Medical and mental health treatment for transgender people should be guided by evidence-based clinical guidelines and based on the individual needs of each person. Denying best practice medical care and support to transgender people can be life- threatening. It has been shown to contribute to depression, social isolation, self-hatred, risk of self-harm and suicidal crises, and more – and Veronica-May has already experienced severe self-harm because the DOC continues to deny her necessary medical care.
By attempting to freeze her medical care in one point in time, the DOC is refusing to provide adequate care that reflects both the person who exists today and the best medical evidence of the present.
By denying our client gender-affirming medical care that she needs, the DOC and Attorney General’s office are threatening her life and health, and they are violating federal law. We’re in court, representing Veronica-May, to ensure that transgender people who are incarcerated are able to get the gender-affirming care they need.
On September 15, 2023, the U.S. District Court issued a summary judgment ruling in favor of Ms. Clark. The court concluded that DOC employees Dr. Gerald Valetta, Richard Bush, and Barbara Kimble-Goodman were “deliberately indifferent to Ms. Clark’s serious medical needs” in violation of the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. The court denied the defendants’ request for qualified immunity in the case. The court noted that the DOC demonstrated having knowledge of Ms. Clark's gender dysphoria diagnosis and the severity of this medical condition, and yet repeatedly denied her medical care.