Ashley Diamond. (Photo Credit: Robin Henson via Southern Poverty Law Center)

ATLANTA, Ga. — On Nov. 23 Ashley Diamond, a Black transgender woman represented by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), sued the Georgia Department of Corrections (GDC) for the second time for its failure to protect her from sexual assault and provide her with adequate healthcare while incarcerated.

In February 2015, Diamond filed a lawsuit challenging the abusive conditions facing incarcerated transgender individuals in Georgia prisons, which led to a historic settlement agreement and rebuke of GDC from the federal court and the U.S. Department of Justice. But despite the policy changes her lawsuit created, Diamond was met with similar unconstitutional conditions when she re-entered GDC custody in 2019.

The current lawsuit argues that GDC failed to protect Diamond from sexual assault and knowingly put her in danger, in violation of the Eighth Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection Clause to the U.S. Constitution, by denying her protection from sexual assault GDC affords others simply because she is transgender.

As a result of a technical parole violation, Diamond, who was released on parole in August 2015, re-entered GDC custody in October 2019 and has once again been housed in men’s prisons where she has been sexually assaulted more than 14 times in the past year by other incarcerated individuals and GDC staff. According to the filed complaint, she also has been subjected to sexual harassment and denied necessary treatment for her gender dysphoria. Her experience has been so traumatic that Diamond recently attempted suicide, the two legal organizations shared.

“Being a woman in a men’s prison is a nightmare,” said Diamond. “I’ve been stripped of my identity. I never feel safe. Never. I experience sexual harassment on a daily basis, and the fear of sexual assault is always a looming thought. I’m bringing this lawsuit to bring about change on behalf of a community that deserves the inherent dignity to simply exist.”

The lawsuit details some of the experiences Diamond has endured throughout her re-incarceration over the past year, including a period of three days during which Diamond was sexually assaulted four times by different people. It also describes an incident in which an officer locked Diamond in an office two days in a row and sexually harassed her for hours on end.

The first assault against Ms. Diamond occurred days after her placement in the maximum-security men’s prison where she was originally housed by GDC, despite the non-violent nature of her offenses. One day before Diamond moved into the dorm in a second men’s prison where she had been transferred, an officer called a dormitory-wide meeting and announced Diamond’s transgender status, disclosing confidential medical information and describing her as “a freak,” “he,” and “it.” Shortly after this meeting, Diamond was assaulted.

Diamond developed post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of past sexual assaults she endured while in GDC custody. Her recent experiences, along with the department’s failure to provide her with adequate treatment for her gender dysphoria, have exacerbated her PTSD and devastated her mental health, causing her to try to harm herself, CCR and SPLC said.

“I never thought I would be partnering with Ashley Diamond to sue Georgia for a second time. However, little has changed since 2015 when it comes to the abuse and neglect of transgender people in GDC custody,” said Chinyere Ezie, attorney for the CCR, who brought Diamond’s original lawsuit in 2015 while working at the SPLC.

The lawsuit also alleges that GDC continues to provide unconstitutionally inadequate medical care to incarcerated transgender people. “While Diamond’s first lawsuit reversed GDC’s policy refusing to provide hormones to transgender people, inconsistent access to hormones are all GDC now provides to a few transgender people — a far cry from the minimum standard of care required. Today’s filing states that GDC’s failures have resulted in a flare-up of severe gender dysphoria symptoms such as anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, and self-harm,” a press release stated.

“We sued Georgia prisons on Ashley’s behalf before and, unfortunately, we’re having to sue again to end the abhorrent treatment of transgender people, particularly transgender women of color, in Georgia’s prisons,” said Beth Littrell, senior attorney for SPLC. “Five years after changing its policies in response to our first lawsuit, GDC tragically continues to flout its legal obligations to protect transgender people in its custody. The assaults and threats that Ashley continues to face on a daily basis are based on the fact that she is a woman in a men’s prison — it’s intolerable and inexcusable.”

According to CCR and SPLC, the Georgia Department of Corrections is “fully aware of its legal responsibility to properly evaluate, treat, and protect all incarcerated transgender women, yet its systemic failures and targeted mistreatment of Ms. Diamond continue. By naming officials and staff at GDC as defendants, the lawsuit demands that GDC fulfill its legal obligations to provide Ms. Diamond, and all transgender people, with medically necessary treatment for gender dysphoria and protection from sexual assault.”

“My hope is that the future is brighter for people like me,” Ms. Diamond said. “I hope this lawsuit forever changes the way transgender people in Georgia are treated. This fight is not just my fight, it’s our fight.”

info: ccrjustice.org. splcenter.org.

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Lainey Millen

Lainey Millen is QNotes' former associate editor, special assignments writer, N.C. and U.S./World News Notes columnist and production director.