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Be a man': Transgender inmate gets big settlement after lawsuit claimed harassment by prison guards

Michale Wright, a transgender inmate, will get a big financial settlement from the Oregon Department of Corrections after a lawsuit claimed harassment by prison guards and denial of medical care. (Image source: YouTube screenshot)

A transgender inmate will get a big financial settlement from the Oregon Department of Corrections after a lawsuit claimed harassment by prison guards and denial of medical care, the Oregonian reported.

The state will pay $167,500 along with $100,000 in legal fees to Michale Wright, the paper said.

What's the background?

  • The 26-year-old is serving time at the Oregon State Correctional Institution in Salem for attempted robbery and has identified as a woman since age 16, the paper reported.
  • Wright was denied multiple requests for hormone treatment despite an official diagnosis of gender dysphoria, the Oregonian reported, citing the lawsuit.
  • The suit also said Wright was placed in segregation or solitary confinement for weeks and sometimes months, the paper reported.
  • Corrections officers also told Wright to “man up,” “be a man,” and called her a “freak” and a homophobic slur, the Oregonian said, citing the suit.
  • Wright also was facing $4,220 in medical fees related to a suicide attempt, the paper reported, but the state agreed to nix those fees as part of the settlement.

What else is happening?

  • Mat dos Santos, legal director of the ACLU's Oregon office, which represented Wright, said his client is “under consideration” for transfer to the state’s lone women’s prison, the Oregonian reported.
  • “I’m around men all the time. I don’t identify as a man, and I don’t relate to them," Wright told the paper in a phone call from prison. "For me, it’s a negative experience.”

  • Wright continues to be listed on the state’s offender website as a man, the Oregonian reported.
  • The state also said it would consider Wright’s request for a curling iron and flat iron and agreed to allow Wright to use an electric razor “without restriction as to where on her body she can use it,” the paper said.
  • The state also promised to provide Wright with “clothing appropriate for her size,” including bras, the Oregonian added.
  • Dos Santos said his client has requested an orchiectomy — a surgical procedure to remove the testicles — before Wright is released next year, the paper said.

What did the state have to say?

  • The Department of Corrections didn’t respond when asked if employees faced discipline as a result of Wright’s harassment allegations, the Oregonian reported.
  • Colette Peters, director of the Department of Corrections, said in a Tuesday statement that the agency disagrees with many of Wright’s allegations but “never disputed the basic principles that transgender individuals within our care and custody should have access to quality medical and mental health care, and that they should be treated in a respectful, inclusive manner," the paper said.
  • The state said it would continue to refer to inmates by “their preferred pronouns," the Oregonian reported.
  • “Staff should not purposely use an incorrect pronoun,” the directive states, according to the paper, and employees can't harass or discipline transgender inmates, for instance, over wearing makeup “or because of staff’s personal views or beliefs regarding transgender persons.”
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