Breaking Barriers: Transgender Inmate Secures Landmark Settlement and Prison Transfer

Minnesota transgender inmate wins lawsuit, moves to women's prison, receives $495,000 settlement.

With an unwavering determination, Christina Lusk fought against the mistreatment she endured while in prison, filing a lawsuit against the Minnesota Department of Corrections. Her case was a catalyst for change, leading to a historic settlement that includes her transfer to a women’s prison and a substantial financial compensation of $495,000.

Lusk’s journey began when she was arrested in 2018 on drug charges while in the process of scheduling her transition surgery. Despite providing medical records and requesting to continue her surgical process, Lusk’s pleas were denied by the DOC. Throughout her incarceration, Lusk faced ongoing harassment from fellow inmates and correctional officers, which took a severe toll on her mental well-being. The derogatory treatment included disrespectful name-calling and the refusal to acknowledge her gender identity.

The legal battle was championed by Gender Justice, a renowned nonprofit organization that provided representation for Lusk throughout her case. The resulting settlement not only ensures Lusk’s transfer to a women’s prison but also signifies a significant milestone in promoting more inclusive policies and practices within the correctional system.

Lusk’s case sets a precedent in Minnesota, as she becomes the first transgender individual to be transferred to a facility that aligns with her gender identity. The settlement also holds the DOC accountable for providing gender-affirming healthcare to Lusk and strengthening its policies to safeguard transgender inmates. In a statement released by Gender Justice, Lusk expressed her appreciation for the resolution and the importance of her journey:

“This journey has presented immense challenges, and I have endured so much. My hope is that no one else has to go through the same circumstances. With unwavering faith, I never gave up hope. Today, I can proudly declare that I am a strong transgender woman, and my name is Christina Lusk.”

The DOC has taken strides toward progress in recent months, implementing a new transgender policy in January. Minnesota now joins the ranks of 10 other states and the District of Columbia in approving facility transfers based on an incarcerated individual’s chosen gender identity. DOC Commissioner Paul Schnell emphasized the constitutional obligation to provide necessary healthcare, including gender dysphoria treatment, to incarcerated individuals.

Moving forward, the DOC’s revised policy allows transgender and gender non-conforming inmates to request placement in facilities that align with their gender identity. Requests will be granted unless there is a heightened risk of physical or sexual harm to the individual or others in the preferred facility. The settlement with Christina Lusk represents a significant milestone in the DOC’s commitment to fulfilling its responsibilities toward transgender inmates.

Jess Braverman, the legal director at Gender Justice, hailed the settlement as a crucial step toward respecting transgender rights within the correctional system. Braverman acknowledged Minnesota’s progressive stance in protecting transgender individuals through anti-discrimination laws and expressed optimism for continued progress:

“Minnesota was the first state in the country to expressly protect transgender people in our anti-discrimination laws. However, it sometimes feels like we are late in fully embracing these rights. This settlement demonstrates that Minnesota is moving forward. We are determined to fulfill our promise and grant transgender individuals the dignity they deserve, whether incarcerated or not.”

As Minnesota breaks barriers in recognizing and honoring the rights of transgender individuals, it sets an example for other states to follow. By promoting inclusivity, compassion, and respect, the correctional system can evolve into a more equitable and understanding environment that uplifts the experiences and identities of all its inmates.