Former Illinois inmate could be 1st federal prisoner to have gender confirmation surgery

A federal judge has ordered the U.S. Bureau of Prisons to have Cristina Nichole Iglesias evaluated for the procedure.

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A downstate federal judge this week ordered the U.S. Bureau of Prisons to evaluate a former Illinois inmate’s request for gender confirmation surgery. Cristina Nichole Iglesias, who is currently in prison in Texas, says she’s been trying for decades to get the prison system to agree to her wishes.

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A federal judge this week ordered the U.S. Bureau of Prisons’ Transgender Executive Council to evaluate a former Illinois inmate for gender confirmation surgery, marking the first time a judge has issued such an order to the federal prison system.

It could pave the way for the first gender confirmation operation for an inmate while in federal custody, said Ed Yohnka, a spokesman for the ACLU Illinois, which is representing the inmate, now housed in Texas.

“It’s especially a big deal if you’re someone who has been suffering with gender dysphoria and unable to access the health care you want for years while you’re being detained,” Yohnka said Tuesday. “The second thing is, the estimate is there are about 1,200 people who are transgender in federal custody. We have a responsibility to take care of those people once they are in custody, and that includes their health care and whatever those needs are.”

To Cristina Nichole Iglesias, her male genitals feel as though she has a “malignant tumor” that needs to be removed.

The 47-year-old transgender woman has been trying for years to persuade the federal prison system to approve gender confirmation surgery. She even filed a lawsuit while she was housed in the federal prison in Marion in southern Illinois in 2019.

And Iglesias wants the surgery soon, according to her lawsuit, because she is set to be released from prison on Dec. 21, 2022.

According to her suit, at age 12, Iglesias told her mother she wanted to live as a girl. In 2009, she tried to castrate herself, the suit states. Iglesias has been in federal custody since 1994 and is currently housed at FMC Carswell, a women’s prison in Texas, convicted of threatening to use a weapon of mass destruction, Yohnka said.

In a statement, Iglesias said Tuesday: “I am very excited that the court has intervened on my behalf; without that happening, I would continue to fall through the cracks and BOP would ignore my need for gender-affirming surgery, which I’ve been fighting to get for decades. I am happy to have had the chance to tell my story and am hopeful that other transgender people will benefit from my case.”

In her ruling, U.S. District Court Chief Judge Nancy J. Rosenstengel of the Southern District of Illinois wrote: “Iglesias suffers daily and is at risk of self-mutilation and suicide.”

Rosenstengel also said: “There is an inadequate remedy at law, as money will not make Iglesias whole. She is at risk for suicide, and her psychological condition will continue to deteriorate.”

Rosenstengel ordered the BOP to have its transgender council meet to evaluate Iglesias’ request by Jan 24. If the council recommends surgery, Iglesias is to be referred to BOP’s medical director “immediately.”

The Bureau of Prisons didn’t immediately return a call for a request for comment.

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