A transgender woman inmate named Ashley Diamond has settled with the Georgia Department of Corrections, after filing a lawsuit last February alleging she had been denied hormone treatments and left unprotected from sexual assault in prison. Diamond, a nonviolent offender, was housed in male facilities with violent offenders for three years.
“We’re really proud of what this case achieved,” said Chinyere Ezie, an attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center, which represented Diamond. “It shows that black transgender lives matter, and that is utterly untenable from a financial and legal and moral perspective for prison officials to deny the humanity and rights of their trans inmates.”
A spokesman for the Georgia Attorney General’s office told the Associated Press on Friday that the state paid Diamond $250,000 in the settlement — $225,000 to her and $25,000 to her lawyers. But in an interview with BuzzFeed News, the SPLC disputed that figure.
"The amount specified by the Attorney General’s Office is not an accurate representation of the final settlement award,” Ezie said. "Because the SPLC is bound by confidentiality, we are unable to disclose the total settlement amount." In an email, the Georgia AG spokesman maintained “the final settlement amount was $250,000,” declining to comment on the case further.
Diamond’s lawsuit forced drastic changes within the Georgia Department of Corrections. In April 2015, the U.S. Department of Justice publicly backed Diamond’s underlying Constitutional claim concerning cruel and unusual punishment, condemning — for the first time — prisons that don’t provide appropriate medical care for transgender inmates. Three days later, the GDC changed its policies, ending its “freeze-frame” approach. Before the change, inmates diagnosed with gender dysphoria could maintain the level of transition at which they entered the prison system — a level difficult for many to prove.
For Diamond, who had been taking female hormones for 17 years prior to her prison sentence beginning in 2012, the old policy meant that she was deprived of what the SPLC has called “medically necessary care.” Her facial hair grew back, while her breasts disappeared and voice dropped. She said she attempted suicide and self-castration. Prison officials refused to recognize her identity, reprimanding her for being “insufficiently masculine” — leaving her vulnerable to sexual assault by other inmates, which happened early and often, Diamond said. After one of these attacks, a prison 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,” according to a witness.
Georgia’s public reversal of the “freeze-frame” policy Diamond had been living under was a major development for transgender prisoners in the state. But four months later, in August 2015, the SPLC filed court documents showing the GDC wasn’t following its own new policy — Diamond, among others, was still being deprived “needed treatment,” the filing said, “including female gender expression, an integral component of her care as confirmed by GDC medical professionals and other competent medical authorities.”
Five days after that filing, Diamond was unexpectedly released on parole, about three years into her 12-year sentence. And in September, a judge dismissed the state of Georgia’s efforts to dismiss the lawsuit.
The SPLC says since Diamond’s release, it has continued to monitor the policies implemented by GDC during the lawsuit, including a new sexual assault prevention policy. Ezie, Diamond’s attorney, said she’s been hearing positive feedback from current inmates. “We’re gladdened by those types of reports,” she said, “But our eyes and ears are always open for any signs that things aren’t proceeding as they should.”
Diamond, now 37, has a “long road to recovery,” Ezie said, but is “tremendously strong and courageous and truly brilliant.” And Diamond has said she wants to continue speaking out for transgender rights, as she did in prison. Six months before her SPLC lawsuit, Diamond managed to publish a series of 25-second YouTube videos from behind bars called “Memoirs of a Chain Gang Sissy.”
“My story is more than just about hormone care," she said in one clip. "It’s about the way society is treating human beings as a whole when we allow this type of violence to take place.”
In December 2014, Diamond’s struggles in prison were highlighted in a BuzzFeed News feature about Zahara Green, another transgender inmate raped in a Georgia prison. In April 2015, The New York Times began covering Diamond’s case at length. Also in April, Elton John and Michael Stipe issued a joint statement of support on behalf of Green and Diamond.