Cases & Advocacy

Adams v. Federal Bureau of Prisons

Status: Closed

Outcome: Victory

Location: Massachusetts

Vanessa Adams is a transgender woman who was diagnosed by Federal Bureau of Prison (BOP) medical professionals with Gender Identity Disorder (GID) in 2005 while she was incarcerated in a BOP prison. Over the next few years, she made at least 19 written requests asking for medical treatment for GID. The BOP denied all of her requests outright based on its so-called “freeze frame” policy in which treatment for any person with GID is kept frozen at the level provided at the time he or she entered BOP custody. In Ms. Adams’ case, this meant that because she had not received treatment for GID before being incarcerated, BOP would not provide her with medically necessary care even though its own doctors diagnosed her with GID, told her about treatments available for GID, and knew about the seriousness of her medical condition. As a result of these denials of treatment, Ms. Adams attempted suicide multiple times and engaged in other avenues of self- treatment in an attempt to live more consistently with her gender identity.

In February 2009, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, Florida Institutional Legal Services, and Bingham McCutchen LLP, filed a lawsuit against the BOP seeking appropriate GID medical treatment for Ms. Adams and asking the court to stop the BOP from continuing to enforce its “freeze frame” GID policy against Ms. Adams and all other transgender people in its custody. In June 2010, the Massachusetts Federal District Court denied BOP’s attempt to dismiss Ms. Adams’ case and in September 2010, the court denied the BOP’s motion for reconsideration. On September 29, 2011, the parties jointly dismissed the case after reaching a settlement. As part of this settlement BOP has put an end to its “freeze frame” GID policy in federal prisons nationwide. BOP will implement an official policy memorandum stating that individuals in the custody of BOP with a possible diagnosis of GID will receive an individualized assessment and evaluation and that treatment plans will be developed based on current accepted standards of care for GID and will not depend on the individual having received GID treatment prior to incarceration. The settlement also requires BOP to provide Ms. Adams with appropriate treatment for GID, including hormone therapy and other medically necessary care.

Ms. Adams was also represented by the Law Offices of Allyson Kurker.