Former Illinois inmate loses latest effort to convince federal prison officials to approve gender confirmation surgery

Cristina Nichole Iglesias says she’s been trying for years to have the surgery, even filing a federal lawsuit.

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A former Illinois inmate has lost her latest effort to convince federal prison officials to approve gender confirmation surgery, according to the ACLU Illinois.

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A former Illinois inmate appears to have lost her latest attempt to become the first federal prisoner to undergo gender confirmation surgery.

Cristina Nichole Iglesias, born with male genitals, has been trying for years to persuade the U.S. Bureau of Prisons to approve the procedure. Iglesias thought she’d moved a step closer after a federal judge late last year ordered the bureau to have its transgender council meet to evaluate her request by Jan. 24.

The bureau had two days after that date to tell the federal judge if they’d approved the surgery, said Ed Yohnka, a spokesman for ACLU Illinois, which is representing Iglesias in a civil suit against the prison system. The deadline has passed without word from the bureau, Yohnka said.

“After years of fighting unnecessary hurdles and delays, Cristina has once again been denied the opportunity to get the care she needs and that the Constitution requires. The record regarding the pain and suffering that Cristina has endured is clear,” John Knight, director of the LGBTQ & HIV Project at the ACLU of Illinois, said in a statement.

Iglesias, 47, filed her lawsuit in 2019 while she was housed in the federal prison in downstate Marion.

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

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 last month’s 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.”

“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 said.

When she issued her Jan. 24 deadline, Rosenstengel said if the bureau’s council recommended surgery, Iglesias should be referred to BOP’s medical director “immediately.”

In an email, the BOP said it doesn’t comment on “pending litigation,” offering instead a general statement about prisoner treatment.

“The BOP is committed to providing all inmates a safe and humane environment, including providing gender-affirming housing and medical care as appropriate,” BOP spokesman Donald Murphy said in a statement. “After reviewing our policy regarding transgender inmates, we have made several updates to meet the community standard of medical and mental health care, appropriately manage and support the offenders, and meet legal requirements as determined by case law, statutes, and federal regulations.”

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