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Transgender inmate at Minnesota men's prison sues for discrimination

Despite the state of Minnesota recognizing Christina Lusk as a woman, the state corrections department placed her in a men’s prison, exposing her to discrimination and harassment, according to a lawsuit filed this week by a Minnesota gender equity nonprofit.

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Christina Lusk
Contributed / Gender Justice
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MOOSE LAKE, Minn. — A transgender woman incarcerated in a Minnesota men’s prison has filed a lawsuit accusing the state corrections department of discrimination and violation of state human rights law.

Christina Lusk, a 56-year-old serving a sentence for drug possession at the Moose Lake Correctional Facility is “socially, medically, and legally” female but is not recognized as such by the Minnesota Department of Corrections, advocacy group Gender Justice said in a lawsuit filed on Lusk’s behalf. Lusk has told prison officials her placement in dormitory housing at the prison puts her “direct line of fire for violence" and that she feels unsafe.

Despite the state of Minnesota recognizing Lusk as a woman, the state corrections department placed her in a men’s prison, exposing her to discrimination and harassment, the lawsuit said. Officials declined Lusk’s request to be placed at the women’s prison in Shakopee, a decision Gender Justice said the corrections department made based on genitalia rather than legal or medical criteria.

"Denial of health care, failure to house transgender people in the appropriate facilities, and misgendering transgender people in state custody is dehumanizing and degrading," Gender Justice said in announcing the lawsuit filed Monday, June 6, in Ramsey County District Court.

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Lusk was designated male at birth, and started hormone replacement therapy after coming out as transgender in 2008, according to the lawsuit. She changed her name in 2018 and was consulting with doctors about gender-affirming surgery around the time of her 2019 arrest.

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The corrections department's transgender committee recommended she be placed at Moose Lake in single-cell or dormitory housing and be able to shower alone. At certain points, she was housed with as many as seven men, the lawsuit said. She filed a complaint with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights in 2020.

While incarcerated, Lusk has sought gender-affirming surgery but corrections officials have denied her request to receive it while incarcerated, despite the fact that doctors had approved her for the procedure before she went to prison, according to the lawsuit. Lusk is set to be released in 2024.

The corrections department making decisions on where to hold Lusk and denying her gender-affirming surgery is unconstitutional and violates the Minnesota Human Rights Act, Gender Justice argues in their lawsuit, which seeks damages and for Lusk to be treated as a woman by the state prison system.

In a statement, the Minnesota Department of Corrections said it is "committed to ensuring the safety and well-being of transgender incarcerated individuals" and explained it considers accommodations for transgender prisoners on a case-by-case basis. The department said it screens transgender individuals upon entry to the prison system for potential vulnerability to sexual assault, as well as medical and mental health issues. The department did not offer comment specific to Lusk's case.

Alex Derosier covers Minnesota breaking news and state government for Forum News Service.
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