The LGBTQ litigation group Lambda Legal on Aug. 26 filed a lawsuit in federal court against the Virginia Department of Corrections on behalf of a transgender man incarcerated at a state prison on grounds that he was illegally denied “medically necessary” care, including breast removal surgery.
The lawsuit charges that the denial of surgery for Jason Yoakam, 42, who has been assigned to the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women in Troy, Va., since 2004, violates the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits “cruel and unusual punishment.”
According to the lawsuit, prison officials also denied Yoakam treatment from qualified mental healthcare providers for gender dysphoria, a medical condition experienced by transgender people widely recognized by professional associations representing the medical and mental health professions, including the American Psychiatric Association.
A statement released by Lambda Legal points out that gender dysphoria is listed as a medical condition that some transgender people experience as significant distress when their gender identity is not congruent with their sex assigned at birth.
“Mr. Yoakam is not seeking special treatment, just access to medically necessary health care and reasonable accommodations,” said Richard Saenz, a senior attorney for Lambda Legal and one of a team of attorneys representing Yoakam in the lawsuit. “Every incarcerated person has a right to basic health care based on their medical needs and should not face discrimination because of their sex,” Saenz said in the Lambda Legal statement.
“The only thing I am asking is to be treated fairly and have access to the same standard of healthcare that other incarcerated people receive,” Yoakam said in the statement. “It has been traumatizing, isolating, and stigmatizing to be denied health care services to treat the gender dysphoria that VDOC’s own providers have diagnosed,” he said.
The lawsuit says that from an early age Yoakam has believed his female body was a “mistake” and he finds his breasts an image of “shame and disgust.” It says prison officials did provide him with a “chest binder” that compresses his breasts, but which also causes pain and skin irritation and cannot provide the necessary treatment and remedy that only surgery can bring about.
By denying him surgery and other needed medical or mental health care, the lawsuit charges, prison authorities have also violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution’s 14th Amendment as well as nondiscrimination provisions under the Americans with Disability Act and the Affordable Care Act.
A spokesperson for the Department of Corrections and the facility where Yoakam is being held could not immediately be reached for comment on the lawsuit
Lambda Legal says in its statement that prison officials told Yoakam he could not be approved for the bilateral mastectomy or chest surgery he requested because it considered the surgery an “elective” procedure that was not medically necessary for treatment of gender dysphoria.
The Washington Post reports that a Department of Corrections official told the Post in an email message that its internal guidelines for medical care for inmates calls for deciding on treatment and care requests on a case-by-case basis.
“All medically necessary treatment is available,” the spokesperson told the Post. “We follow the community standard of care.”
Court records show that Yoakam pleaded guilty in 2004 to a charge of first-degree murder and was sentenced by a Virginia judge to 30 years in prison, with nine years suspended for a total of 21 years of incarceration. An inmate information page on the Fluvanna Correctional Center’s website shows that Yoakam is scheduled to complete his sentence and to be released on May 23, 2022, after serving just over 18 years.
A corrections department spokesperson couldn’t immediately be reached about Yoakam’s release schedule, but correctional systems often reduce the time served for inmates based on a number of factors, including good behavior.
Court records and all official references to Yoakam at the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women refer to him by his legal female birth name. Saenz of Lambda Legal said Yoakam is in the process of legally changing his name to Jason Yoakam.
The court records and news media reports show that Yoakam, at age 24, was arrested on a first-degree murder charge and other related charges, including illegal firearms possession, on March 3, 2004, just over four months after he allegedly shot and killed James “Jamie” Lane, 39, on Oct. 15, 2003.
The incident occurred in Lee County, Va., located in the southwestern corner of the state near the Kentucky and Tennessee borders. The Kingsport, Tenn., Times-News reported in a Dec. 3, 2003, story that Yoakam was identified at that time as a lesbian woman who became enraged when his girlfriend left him to begin a relationship with Lane.
“Testimony from a number of witnesses indicated that the shooting may have stemmed from a love triangle with a twist,” the Times-News reported.
The newspaper reported that Lane’s ex-wife, Tonya Garrett Lane, 30, who is Yoakam’s half-sister, was charged with allegedly conspiring to murder the ex-girlfriend of Yoakam who reportedly left Yoakam to begin a relationship with her ex-husband.
“The ex-Mrs. Lane was apparently involved because she didn’t want her children ‘being raised by a (expletives deleted) lesbian,’” the Times-News reported based on testimony in court.
In a historic first, Colorado now has a 1st gentleman as Gov. Polis marries
The governor and his now husband decided to hold their nuptials on the 18th anniversary of their first date
DENVER – Colorado’s Democratic Governor Jared Polis married his longtime partner Marlon Reis in a ceremony that marked the first same-sex marriage of a sitting Out governor in the United States.
The couple was married Wednesday in a small traditional Jewish ceremony at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where Reis had matriculated and graduated from. The governor and his now husband decided to hold their nuptials on the 18th anniversary of their first date.
“We met online and went out on a date and we went to the Boulder bookstore and then went to dinner,” Polis told KCFR-FM, Colorado Public Radio (CPR).
In addition to family and close friends in attendance, the couple’s two children participated with their 7-year-old daughter serving as the flower girl and their 9-year-old son as the ring bearer.
The governor joked that their daughter was probably more thrilled than anyone about the wedding. “She was all in on being a flower girl. She’s been prancing around. She got a great dress. She’s terrific,” he said CPR reported.
Their son was also happy, but more ambivalent about it all according to Reis. “Kids are so modern that their responses to things are sometimes funny. Our son honestly asked us, ‘Why do people get married?”
The greatest lesson we have learned over the past 18 months is that life as we know it can change in an instant. We are thankful for the opportunity to celebrate our life together as a married couple.— Governor Jared Polis (@GovofCO) September 15, 2021
After 18 years together, we couldn’t be happier to be married at last. pic.twitter.com/psBhfEoEny
Colorado’s chief executive, sworn in as the 43rd governor of Colorado in January 2019, over the course of nearly 20 years as a political activist and following in public service as an elected official has had several ‘firsts’ to his credit.
In 2008 Polis is one of the few people to be openly Out when first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives as well as being the first gay parent to serve in the Congress. Then on November 6, 2018, he was the first openly gay governor elected in Colorado and in the United States.
Gov. Jared Polis And First Gentleman Marlon Reis Are Newlyweds
U.S. Catholic theologians call for LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections
Joint statement says church teachings support equality
More than 750 of the nation’s leading Catholic theologians, church leaders, scholars, educators, and writers released a joint statement on Sept. 14 expressing strong support for nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people.
The six-page theological statement, “A Home for All: A Catholic Call for LGBTQ Non-Discrimination,” was scheduled to be published along with the names of its 759 signatories as a four-page advertisement on Sept. 17 in the National Catholic Reporter, a newspaper widely read by Catholic clergy and laypeople.
The statement was initiated by New Ways Ministry, a Mount Rainier, Md., based Catholic group that advocates for equality for LGBTQ people within the church and society at large.
“As Catholic theologians, scholars, church leaders, writers, and ministers, we affirm that Catholic teaching presents a positive case for ending discrimination against LGBTQ people,” the statement says. “We affirm the Second Vatican Council’s demand that ‘any kind of social or cultural discrimination…must be curbed and eradicated,’” it says.
“We affirm that Catholic teaching should not be used to further oppress LGBTQ people by denying rights rooted in their inherent human dignity and in the church’s call for social equality,” the statement adds.
The statement notes that its signers recognize that a “great debate” is currently taking place within the Catholic Church about whether same-gender relationships and transgender identities should be condoned or supported.
“That is a vital discussion for the future of Catholicism, and one to which we are whole-heartedly committed,” the statement continues. “What we are saying in this statement, however, is relatively independent of that debate, and the endorsers of this statement may hold varied, and even opposing, opinions on sexual and gender matters,” it says.
Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministries executive director, said his organization and the signers of the statement feel the issue of nondiscrimination for LGBTQ people can and should be supported by Catholic leaders and the church itself even if some are not yet ready to support same-sex marriage and sexual and gender identity matters.
“LGBTQ non-discrimination is being debated at all levels in our society, and the Catholic perspective on this is often misrepresented, even by some church leaders,” DeBernardo said. “Catholics who have studied and reflected deeply on this topic agree that non-discrimination is the most authentic Catholic position,” he said.
DeBernardo said those who helped draft the statement decided it would be best to limit it to a theological appeal and argument for LGBTQ equality and non-discrimination and not to call for passage of specific legislation such as the Equality Act, the national LGBTQ civil rights bill pending in the U.S. Congress.
The Equality Act calls for amending existing federal civil rights laws to add nondiscrimination language protecting LGBTQ people in areas such as employment, housing, and public accommodations. The U.S. House approved the legislation, but the Senate has yet to act on it.
“We wanted this to be a theological statement, not a political statement,” DeBernardo said.
He said organizers of the project to prepare the statement plan to send it, among other places, to the Vatican in Rome and to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which has expressed opposition to the Equality Act.
Among the key signers of the statement were 242 administrators, faculty, and staff from Sacred Heart University, a Catholic college in Fairfield, Conn. New Ways Ministries says the statement was circulated by the school’s administration and eight of its top leaders, including President John Petillo, are among the signers.
Some of the prominent writers who signed the statement include Sister Helen Prejean, author of “Dead Man Walking;” Richard Rodriquez, author of “Hunger of Memory;” Gary Wills, author of “Lincoln at Gettysburg;” and Gregory Maguire, author of “Wicked.”
The full text of the statement and its list of signatories can be accessed at the New Ways Ministry website.
Activists reflect on Black Trans Lives Matter movement resurgence
Blade speaks with Alex Santiago, Jasmyne Cannick
The world came to a standstill last year as a video surfaced online that showed then-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin murdering George Floyd. The video went viral and sparked numerous protests against racism and police brutality in the U.S. and around the world as many people felt it a potent time to relay their frustrations with and to their governments.
For the LGBTQ community, these protests brought to light the need for human rights for transgender individuals as the murders of people like Tony McDade in Florida and Nina Pop in Missouri reawakened the flame within the Black Trans Lives Matter movement.
The Washington Blade more than a year later spoke with Alex Santiago, executive director of the I Am Human Foundation in Atlanta, and Jasmyne Cannick, a Democratic political strategist and journalist in Los Angeles, to reflect on last year’s Black Trans Lives Matter movement, how far it has come, and what’s in store for the future.
Uplifting voices often silenced
Participating in the Black Lives Matter protests was an easy decision for Santiago. He is a member of the Legendary House of Garcon, a ballroom house headquartered in D.C.
Although the house is composed mostly of LGBTQ members, Santiago still felt the need to center trans voices and experiences by visually representing them during Black Lives Matter marches.
“[I decided that] when I go I’m going to have signs that say ‘Black Trans Lives Matter.’ After talking to a couple of the people in the house, they said it was a great idea. So, they got these t-shirts made that incorporated the trans colors [baby blue, baby pink and white],” says Santiago.
Out of the 250 people in the Legendary House of Garcon, 175 showed up to D.C. from other states to march in solidarity with Black trans people. Santiago says that from what he was told, his was the largest group of activists representing Black trans lives at protests.
“At first I thought people were going to look at us crazy, like, ‘Why are you separating yourselves or being exclusive?’. But, we got a great response from the general population that was there that day. It was a good day,” says Santiago.
Cannick, who was in Los Angeles during the protests, lent her efforts to platforming pertinent issues. She identifies herself as an ally and a “friend” to the LGBTQ community.
“I’m active in the LA community and everybody knows me. So, whenever something happens, someone is hurt, someone is killed or someone needs to get the word out about something that’s going on particularly as it relates to the trans community, I’m always asked to get involved, and I do,” says Cannick.
Over the past year, she reported on multiple LGBTQ issues including the trial of Ed Buck, a Democratic political fundraiser who was convicted in the deaths of two gay Black men who he injected with methamphetamine in exchange for sex.
What happened to the BTLM movement and what needs to change?
The nature of many social movements is that as the intense emotion surrounding them fades, people’s fervor for change wanes as well. This is especially true with allies who are not directly linked to the cause.
“Fatigue and frustration at the relatively slow pace of change to a growing backlash on the right against efforts to call out systemic racism and white privilege — has led to a decline in white support for the Black Lives Matter movement since last spring, when white support for social justice was at its peak,” US News reports about the Black Lives Matter movement.
Cannick believes this is the same for the Black Trans Lives Matter movement. She says Americans allow the media to dictate how it behaves and responds to issues. Thus, when stories “fall out of our media cycles … they fall out of our memories.”
“I think that’s not going to change, and that’s a psychological thing, until we learn how to not let the media necessarily dictate our issues,” says Cannick.
She suggests that individuals remain plugged into their communities by “doing anything to make sure they keep up with an issue” including following the “right people” on social media and setting up Google alerts for any breaking news.
Santiago also echoes Cannick’s sentiments.
“We wait until something happens before we do something. And, I don’t want to be retroactive; I want to be proactive. I want people to see me when things are going well [and when they’re not going well],” says Santiago.
Upon returning to his home in Atlanta after the D.C. protests, Santiago contacted a billboard installation company and paid for a billboard labelled, “Black Trans Lives Matter” to be displayed on University Avenue near downtown Atlanta. He says that the billboards got attention and helped to spread much-needed awareness. Following this success, he is now in the process of installing a new billboard labelled, “Black, Trans and Visible. My life Matters.”
“Unless you’re in people’s faces or something drastic happens, people forget. Unless you’re living it, people forget,” says Santiago.
As time progresses, both Santiago and Cannick nest hope for the Black Trans Lives Matter movement. However, this hope can only persist when crucial steps are taken to ensure Black trans individuals around the country are protected, most importantly through legislation.
The New York Times reports there are close to 1,000 elected LGBTQ officials in the U.S., with at least one in each state except Mississippi.
“We need to have more legislation. We need more voices in power like the council Biden has right now,” says Santiago.
“You know that [Biden] has a lot of trans people and Black trans people [involved], and a part of that’s a positive step in the right direction, but we need that times 10,” says Santiago.
He believes that political representation should extend to local governance where ordinary Black trans individuals can be trained to assume leadership roles.
Cannick’s focus is on the Black community.
“[Trans women] are usually murdered by Black men. If we ever expect that to change, we need to start talking about that,” says Cannick.
She’s open to having conversations that put people, including her as a cis-identifying woman, in uncomfortable and awkward spaces.
She hosts a podcast titled “Str8 No Chaser” and recently aired an episode, “Why Are Black Men Killing Trans Women,” where she discussed with three Black trans women about the gender and sexuality dynamics within the Black community and their perils.
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