Thursday, February 02, 2006

Wis. law can't stop four inmates' hormone treatments - Associated Press

MILWAUKEE (AP) -- A new Wisconsin law barring the use of state tax money for prisoner sex changes won't stop four male inmates from getting state-paid hormone treatments until at least August.

The law took effect last week, but the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal, an Atlanta-based advocacy group for homosexual, bisexual and transgender people, filed suit in U.S. District Court in Milwaukee on behalf of the four, challenging the statute as unconstitutional.

The law bars the state Department of Correction from using tax dollars for hormone therapy or gender reassignment surgery to treat prisoners for a condition of gender identity disorder.

The four inmates claim stopping the treatments would be cruel and unusual punishment and would violate their right to equal protection under law.

"The Legislature is substituting its judgment for medical judgment, which is causing serious harm to our clients," said Cole Thaler, the lawyer for three of the inmates.

State Rep. Mark Gundrum, R-New Berlin, one of the authors of the law, predicted it would withstand the challenge.

"It's ridiculous to ask the taxpayers to pay for this," he said.

A preliminary injunction issued last week by Judge Charles Clevert Jr. prevents the state from stopping the hormone treatments at least until he holds a hearing on the matter, scheduled Aug. 24.

People with gender identity disorder have a strong and persistent discomfort with their birth gender and wish to live as the other,

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, those with the relatively rare gender identity disorder can have trouble functioning in society and severe depression, in some cases leading to suicide.

The legal fight over treatment started in 2003, when inmate Scott Konitzer filed a lawsuit against the Department of Corrections. He is serving 123 years in prison for multiple armed robberies and stabbing an inmate.

Konitzer, now known as Donna Dawn Konitzer, has been getting hormone therapy as treatment for gender identity disorder since 1999.

He was seeking gender reassignment surgery, which the state has never permitted and can cost $10,000 to $20,000.

In reaction to his lawsuit, legislators passed the Inmate Sex Change Prevention Act, which was enacted Jan. 6 and was set to take effect Jan. 25.

On Jan. 24, three more inmates filed suit.

The four are the only Wisconsin prisoners getting hormone therapy, which costs from $675 to $1,600 a year.

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