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Last February, Ashley Diamond sued the Georgia Department of Corrections in federal court. A transgender woman, Diamond was housed in a men's prison, denied medical treatment, and repeatedly sexually assaulted, she alleged -- all while the state refused to take corrective action.
This Monday, she was unexpectedly granted parole. Her release comes months before her case was scheduled for review and less than three years into her 11 year sentence. Diamond's suit shed light on the frequent neglect and abuse transgender inmates face and it quickly became a "thorn in the side of the Georgia Department of Corrections," according to The New York Times.
Federal Lawsuit Details Years of Abuse
Ashley Diamond has lived as a woman since she was an adolescent, but when she was convicted of burglary, the Georgia prison system treated her as a man. Over three years, Diamond was housed in a series of high-security prisons for violent male felons. "During intake, I kept saying: 'Hello? I'm trans? I'm a woman?'" Diamond told the Times in an interview from prison. "But to them I was gay. I was what they called a 'sissy.' So finally I was like: 'O.K., I'm a sissy. Do you have a place where sissies can go and be O.K.?'"
Diamond was certainly not O.K. anywhere the state sent her. After three years and several attempted suicides, she filed a federal lawsuit with the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Her complaint detailed the horrific experiences Diamond faced in prison. She was repeatedly beaten and raped. Prison officials referred to her as "he-she-thing" and put her in solitary confinement for "pretending to be a woman." She was denied hormones she had been taking for years, despite a doctor's insistence that they were necessary for her gender dysphoria. (Gender dysphoria, or the feeling that one's birth sex does not match one's psychological identity, is a medical condition often treated with hormone therapy.)
An Unexpected and Much Needed Release
Diamond's lawsuit brought legal and media attention to her case and that of other transgender inmates. The Justice Department filed a brief in her support. But even under court scrutiny, the Georgia prisons could not fully protect her. In June, she reported that she had been raped for the eighth time since she was imprisoned.
It would be an understatement to say that Diamond's parole came as a relief. "I'm overjoyed to be with my family again and out of harm's way," Diamond said in a statement released by the SPLC. A spokesperson for the state parole board said it acted to free Diamond since the release was "compatible with the welfare of society and public safety." Her lawyers also praised Diamond's release and said they will continue to advocate against practices that unfairly harm transgender inmates.