The New York Civil Liberties Union, joined by several prominent civil rights organizations, today applied for permission to file an amicus brief in a federal appeals court in support of a transgender woman who was unconstitutionally denied any treatment for her gender identity disorder for more than six years while incarcerated in a New York State prison.

The case, Manning v. Goord, concerns the state Department of Correctional Services (DOCS) refusal for six years to treat Leslie Ann Manning’s gender identity disorder (GID) because of a since-revised policy that categorically barred inmates from being treated for the condition unless their treatment began before incarceration, regardless of what was medically necessary for a particular prisoner. DOCS’s failure to provide Ms. Manning with treatment caused her years of mental and physical anguish.

“When the government takes away people’s liberty, it assumes responsibility for their medical care,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “Prison officials’ callous disregard of Ms. Manning’s serious medical needs not only was unconstitutional, it violated basic standards of human decency.”

Manning filed a federal lawsuit in 2005 challenging DOCS’s refusal to provide her treatment. DOCS later revised its GID treatment policy and began providing Manning hormone therapy. She continued to pursue the lawsuit for damages. In March 2010, a district court judge dismissed the case, finding that the defendants had not violated Ms. Manning’s constitutional rights. The case is currently before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

The NYCLU’s amicus brief argues that district court erred in failing to find that Ms. Manning’s GID was a serious medical need and in questioning whether GID could ever be a serious medical need. According to the brief, the lower court also erred in holding that to establish a serious medical need a prisoner must prove that his or her condition “may produce death, degeneration, or extreme pain” and in ruling that the defendants’ reliance on the DOCS policy to deny Ms. Manning necessary care did not constitute deliberate indifference to her serious medical condition.

The brief maintains that the Eighth Amendment does not allow prisons to deny incarcerated people any form of treatment for serious conditions like GID or to ignore their serious medical needs simply because those needs went undiagnosed or untreated before an individual was incarcerated. It asks the court to clarify that blanket policies or practices that categorically prohibit treatment for GID or any serious medical condition, without allowing an assessment of a particular prisoner’s needs, violates the Eighth Amendment.

“Gender identity disorder is a serious, well-recognized medical condition that prisons cannot cruelly ignore,” said NYCLU Senior Counsel for LGBT Rights Melissa Goodman, lead author of the brief. “By denying Ms. Manning any treatment because of a blanket, arbitrary and medically unjustifiable treatment ban policy, prison officials caused her great suffering and ignored their constitutional obligations.”

The following organizations joined the NYCLU on the brief: the American Civil Liberties Union, Housing Works, Inc., Lambda Legal, the Legal Aid Society of the City of New York, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the Peter Cicchino Youth Project at the Urban Justice Center, Prisoners’ Legal Services of New York, the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, and the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund.

NYCLU Legal Director Arthur Eisenberg and NYCLU Staff Attorney Taylor Pendergrass are coauthors with Goodman of the brief.