FL Corrections system’s reversal on transgender policy sways appeals court

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A federal appeals court has sided with the Florida Department of Corrections in a dispute with a transgendered inmate who sought treatment for gender dysphoria, including the right to grow her hair, wear women’s undergarments, and otherwise present socially as a woman.

In a 2-1 ruling handed down Wednesday, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit concluded the department had countermanded most of the policies that inmate Reiyn Keohane had complained about, and that therefore there was no legal case to answer.

The court overturned an August 2018 ruling by U.S. District Judge Mark Walker ordering the department, or FDC, to supply hormone therapy to Keohane and allow her to present as female; she’d been born as male.

Scott Coogler, a federal district judge in Alabama sitting temporarily on the panel, joined the ruling.

Walker dismissed the department’s arguments that it had reversed at least portions of its blanket rules for transgendered inmates as a bid to block her lawsuit, saying the move came too late during the litigation to merit credibility.

The panel majority, however, concluded that the department was entitled to deference on that score.

“Because the FDC has formally rescinded its freeze-frame policy and replaced it with a new one that properly attends to inmates’ individualized medical needs, we hold that Keohane’s challenge to the old policy is moot,” Judge Kevin Newsom, a Donald Trump appointee, wrote.

“There is, quite simply, no longer any freeze-frame policy to challenge — nothing to enjoin, as the district court purported to do,” he continued.

“Freeze-frame” refers to the old prison policy of medically treating inmates for gender dysphoria at the level they’d been receiving before incarceration. In Keohanes’ case, that meant denying hormone treatments and the right to dress and present as a woman even though incarcerated in a male prison , even when she attempted suicide and other self-harm.

Keohane began serving a 15-year sentence for attempted murder in 2014, according to a published account.

Judge Charles Wilson, named to the court by President Clinton, said the majority was wrong to overrule the trial judge because he’d been in a better position to judge the department’s credibility.

“The majority quips that wisdom ‘often never comes, and so one ought not to reject it merely because it comes late,’” Wilson wrote.

“But the district court didn’t find that wisdom had come late; it found that wisdom had never come at all,” he continued.

“It concluded that the FDC’s reversals were born of desperation, not deliberation. And its holding stood on a host of findings: that the timing of the FDC’s concessions was suspect; that the FDC had no explanation for its delay; that the FDC’s positions throughout the litigation were inconsistent; that the FDC’s decision-making was a black box; that the FDC’s prior practices were not accidental, but deliberate and historical; that the FDC refused to promise that it would not re-enact the freeze-frame policy; that the FDC still was adamant that its practices were valid, even after it claimed to change its ways; that the FDC delayed in providing Keohane’s hormone therapy, even after it agreed that she needs it; and that, on at least one occasion, the FDC applied the repealed freeze-frame policy to bar hormone therapy for a patient with gender dysphoria.”