A trans inmate has won her right to be recognized in accordance with her gender identity at a Florida prison after a years-long court battle.
Reiyn Keohane filed suit in 2014 after officials with the Florida Department of Corrections denied her hormone treatment, despite the fact that access to transition care was a condition of her plea bargain. Keohane, then 20, pled guilty to attempted second degree murder after stabbing her roommate, Caley Patrick, in September 2013. She had begun hormone therapy a month prior to her arrest.
According to a lawsuit filed on Keohane’s behalf by the American Civil Liberties Union, that promise was never fulfilled. Instead the court filings allege the inmate’s female garments were confiscated and her hair forcibly cut.
Keohane further alleged nightmarish treatment at the Walton Correctional Institution, where she is serving a 15-year sentence. It’s a men’s prison.
“I have been denied at every level, told by doctors that I’m not transgender, refused hormone therapy even though I had taken it on the streets, and had to go weeks without being able to shave after being put in confinement for wearing women’s clothing or standing up for my rights,” she claimed in a statement.
“I have been made into something less than a man or woman,” Keohane added, “because in this world I am weak no matter how strong I may be, and I have no voice no matter how hard I scream.”
During her four years behind bars, Keohane claims she’s attempted to hang herself and castrate herself multiple times.
Although the inmate was eventually given access to hormone treatment in 2016 after the lawsuit was filed, the ACLU claims its client was not allowed to “socially transition” in prison — to dress according to her gender identity and be recognized with female pronouns.
The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida Tallahassee Division ruled on Wednesday that treatment violated Keohane’s constitutional rights under the Eighth Amendment.
“The Defendant’s deliberate denial of care –that is, the denial of access to female clothing and grooming standards despite its knowledge of her diagnosis and her history and risk of self-harm — has caused Ms. Keohane to continue to suffer unnecessarily and poses a substantial risk of harm to her health,” claimed Chief U.S. District Judge Mark S. Walker in a written opinion.
Walker concluded that being treated like other female inmates housed in Florida prisons is “medically necessary to alleviate Ms. Keohane’s gender dysphoria.”
“Accordingly, Defendant is enjoined to permit Ms. Keohane access to the same undergarments, hair-length policy, and makeup items available for inmates housed in Defendant’s female facilities so that she can socially transition to treat her gender dysphoria,” he added.
Throughout the opinion issued Wednesday, Keohane’s case is described consistently with her preferred name and pronouns.
“Ultimately, this case is about whether the law, and this Court by extension, recognizes Ms. Keohane’s humanity as a transgender woman,” the judge wrote. “The answer is simple. It does, and I do.”
The ACLU celebrated the long-overdue victory following the historic ruling.
“We are thrilled that the Court has ruled that a prisoner with gender dysphoria must be afforded appropriate treatment, including hormone therapy and the ability to dress and groom in accordance with her gender identity,” claimed ACLU of Florida Staff Attorney Daniel Tilley in a statement. “Our client, Reiyn, has fought the DOC tooth and nail for years, and they have forcefully resisted providing her with treatment for her gender dysphoria every step of the way.”
“After today, the DOC will no longer be able to subject her to forced buzz cuts or confiscate her bras and underpants,” Tilley continued. “And her hormone therapy will continue. Today is a great day for our client, and we celebrate with her.”
Leslie Cooper, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s LGBT Project, hoped Wednesday’s ruling would set precedent for prisons across the U.S. on housing trans inmates.
“Allowing Ms. Keohane to dress and groom according to the same standards applied to other incarcerated women follows the practices of major prison systems across the country,” Cooper claimed in a press release. “Prisons and jails across the country that have fallen behind should take note of today’s ruling and reform their policies. Litigation is wholly unnecessary if prisons and jails simply do the right thing.”
Keohane’s ruling, however, arrives at an auspicious time.
Earlier this year, the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) rolled back Obama-era protections for trans prisoners in a newly issued guidance instructing facilities to house inmates according to their “biological sex.”
The new policies reportedly originated from the Alliance Defending Freedom, an anti-LGBTQ organization classified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a “hate group.” The Scottsdale, Ariz.-based group is behind the introduction of dozens of anti-trans bathroom bills across the country, as well as the Masterpiece Cakeshop case at the Supreme Court.
Keohane has vowed to continue fighting to improve the lives of transgender inmates, even if the federal government won’t.
“I have endured,” she has previously claimed. “I will because I believe this is my purpose — to suffer through and fight, write up everything I can, and take this unjust system to court. I know that I am not alone, that other women have been in my situation before, and had it better or worse. This is my rock bottom, the lowest point in my life, but I will survive, and I will never surrender who I am.”
“I will fight this prejudice every step of the way so that there will be a better future for all other people who are thrown in prison, so that we may all have the treatment, dignity, and respect that every human being deserves, even if they have done wrong,” the inmate continued.
Keohane is currently scheduled for release in March 2028.