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Trans prisoner wins court case allowing her to access gender-affirming treatments

Meka Beresford February 12, 2018

(Lambda Legal/Jessica Hicklin)

A trans prisoner in Missouri has won a landmark court case meaning that she will be able to access gender-affirming treatments.

Jessica Heckling has been n the Potosi Correctional Center since she was sentenced to life in prison without parole in 1995.

At just 16-years-old, was convicted of first-degree murder and armed criminal action after she shot an killed a man during a drug-related incident.

At that time, Hicklin was beginning to come to terms with her trans identity but because of former rules held by the Missouri Department of Corrections, she had been unable to access many of the treatments and procedures in order to transition.

Because she had not been diagnosed with gender dysphoria before being sentenced, she was denied access because of the “freeze frame” policy.

Related: Prison officers banned trans inmate from mixing with others in prison and called ‘it’

The policy has been coined “unconstitutional” by Hicklin’s lawyer, Demoya Gordon of Lambda Legal, and they hope that the court ruling will come as a significant blow to it.

“If they can’t justify not doing this for her, how that can they justify not doing this for anybody else. This should be the knife to the heart of the policy,” Gordon added.

Hicklin was diagnosed with severe anxiety and depression the longer she was forced to live as male.

Despite doctors recommendations, the prison denied her hormone therapy, access to women’s commissary items and regular hair removal.

However, the 38- year-old has now won her right to access these potentially life-saving items after she won a court case against the Missouri DOC.

Speaking about the ruling, Hicklin said it has been “life-saving”.

Related: Trans woman prisoner found dead amid legal battle to have her name legally recognised

She told BuzzFeed: “It’s like you’re out in the middle of the ocean, your boat capsized, and you’re just hoping that you’ll see a boat on the horizon and that you’re not going to drown, but how do you keep treading water?

“It’s like this lawsuit was a flare. That’s really how I’ve felt, like we filed this lawsuit and it’s in the courts, there’s no indication of whether anybody saw it and I’m just drowning, and wondering why I’m still treading water. So obviously the feeling is, the boat showed up. There is life now.

“For me this is life-saving, and I know for sure if I’m talking to someone, it’s going to be life-saving for them. It’s like you’re drowning and somebody throws you the life vest,” she said.

Holly Severson holds up a sign showing support for Chelsea Manning in the Castro District of San Francisco, California on May 17, 2017, during a celebration for Manning's release. Manning, the transgender army private jailed for one of the largest leaks of classified documents in US history, was released from a maximum-security prison in Kansas May 17, after seven years behind bars. / AFP PHOTO / Josh Edelson (Photo credit should read JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images)
(Photo by JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images)

She added that straight after she found out the ruling she almost could not believe she had won.

“I kept going, like, Are you kidding me? I get to be the woman I am? Even just trying to explain it my eyes are fogging up. I have so much hope for the future now,” she said.

She went on to explain that even being able to wear female underwear will create an incredible sense of affirmation because for a long time all she could feminise was her hair.

“All my life it’s been the only expression of womanhood I had was my hair and I’m looking forward to having [women’s] underwear that’s me… I will be the only one who knows that I have it but it’s a sign of me. And just to be able to say I dress like a woman, because I am one.”

Related: First trans prison inmate granted gender surgery

Hickins said that the freeze frame policy, which has stopped her from furthering her transition for such a long time, is often not an “official written police” and so it’s difficult to know how many US prisons are enforcing the “antiquated” policy.

“They don’t adhere to either modern medical practice or standards of human decency,” she said.

The prisoner added that before the ruling she was scared every day that they would not win the case.

She said: “I wanted to have hope that it was going to happen and when it didn’t I had to convince myself every night when I went to bed, how am I going to go on, how am I going to keep doing this?

“I was just explaining to my therapist the other day, I can’t even take myself in the mirror anymore. And to think I’ll actually be happy to look in the mirror, that’s actually going to be me, not this other person.”

More: court case, gender affirming treatment, LGBT, Missouri, prison, Trans, Transgender, US

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