The Southern Poverty Law Center filed a lawsuit late Thursday night on behalf of Ashley Diamond, a 36-year-old transgender woman who says she's been denied hormone treatments and repeatedly sexually assaulted in Georgia prisons.
Diamond began her sentence in 2012, found guilty of charges including burglary and theft. According to the SPLC, Diamond had been taking female hormones since she was 17 — but denied "medically necessary care" in prison, Diamond has been "forced to transition back," the lawsuit says. She's grown facial hair, her breasts have disappeared, and her voice has dropped, the SPLC previously told BuzzFeed News.
According to the lawsuit, prison medical personnel have acknowledged Diamond's gender dysphoria diagnosis, but despite recommendations from a prison psychologist she be provided hormone therapy, more senior health administrators have refused to authorize the treatment. The lawsuit also alleges that prison officials have "disregarded Ms. Diamond's substantial vulnerability to sexual assault — a problem that is well-documented within GDC."
The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia, cites the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment, listing as defendants the Georgia Department of Corrections' commissioner Brian Owens and medical director Sharon Lewis, along with two wardens, a deputy warden, and other prison officials.
A spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Corrections said it "does not comment on active lawsuits." Georgia's attorney general's office, which represents state officials in legal matters, declined to comment.
In December, BuzzFeed News reported on another ongoing lawsuit filed by former Georgia inmate Zahara Green, a transgender woman who was put into protective custody and allegedly raped by another inmate — a man she had asked prison officials to protect her from.
Diamond — currently housed at Baldwin State Prison in Milledgeville, Georgia — has filed independent lawsuits against Georgia prison administrators before; in May 2014, the SPLC publicly demanded these administrators comply with her medical requests. But while attempting to communicate with the Georgia Department of Corrections on Diamond's behalf, the SPLC found itself "beating our head up against a wall," deputy legal director David Dinielli told BuzzFeed News in December.
GDC's internal policy, Dinielli said at the time, was to allow transgender inmates to maintain the level of transition at which they entered, mirroring the former policy of the U.S. Bureau of Prisons. Instead, Dinielli said, Diamond "was told she needs to spend her time learning coping mechanisms." Diamond has attempted suicide and self-castration in prison, according to the lawsuit, and been diagnosed with PTSD.
The Supreme Court has held that prison officials can be held responsible for the mistreatment of transgender inmates if they do not take "reasonable measures" to prevent it. In recent years, many transgender inmates have filed suits against prison systems, citing not just medical issues, but prisons' failure to abide by the Prison Rape Elimination Act, which includes guidelines for safely housing transgender inmates.
BuzzFeed News has previously reported other details of Diamond's treatment. In two and a half years of incarceration, she was sexually abused at least seven times, Diamond has said. After one of these attacks, according to a sworn affidavit from a fellow inmate, a lieutenant "verbatim told Diamond it was her fault because she was transgender and accused her of sleeping with inmates and screaming rape at every camp she goes to."
Once, after Diamond filed a grievance over not being allowed to maintain her eyebrows, the warden at Valdosta State Prison told her there was "no medically indicated reason for you to adorn your face by manipulating your eyebrows. This is a male facility and your gender is male."
The lawsuit addresses this incident, adding that the same warden would refer to Diamond as a "'he-she thing' in front of [other] inmates and personnel." Administrators "barred Ms. Diamond from outwardly expressing her female gender identity," the complaint reads. "Ms. Diamond has been thrown into solitary confinement for 'pretending to be a woman,' had her female clothing confiscated, and repeatedly been told to look and act like a man."
Diamond's treatment inspired her to publish a series of 25-second YouTube videos — apparently filmed from prison on a smuggled device and titled "Memoirs of a Chain Gang Sissy" — six months ago. In the videos, Diamond, whose maximum release date is in 2023, describes "unbelievable sexual and physical abuse" and the "irrevocable changes" her body has gone through since ending her hormone treatments.
"The Georgia Department of Corrections says there's a zero tolerance for sexual violence. I seriously doubt that," she said in one clip. "My story is more than just about hormone care. It's about the way society is treating human beings as a whole when we allow this type of violence to take place."
On Friday, the SPLC released a single edited version of Diamond's recordings: