Transgender woman incarcerated in men's prison sues for discrimination

A woman poses in front of the mantle of a fireplace.
Christina Lusk of Minneapolis alleges in a lawsuit that the Department of Corrections is discriminating against her because she's transgender.
Courtesy Erin Hart

A Minnesota prison inmate alleges in a new lawsuit that the Department of Corrections is discriminating against her because she's transgender.

Christina Lusk of Minneapolis came out as transgender 14 years ago, started hormone therapy, then legally changed her name in 2018.

The next year, a judge sent the 56-year-old to prison for first-degree drug possession. The corrections department assigned her to Moose Lake, a men's facility.

Attorney Jess Braverman with the group Gender Justice said the DOC is deferring Lusk's gender-affirming surgery until her release in 2024. Braverman added that her client is unsafe in Moose Lake.

"She's a woman, and suddenly she's placed in a men's facility. She's in a locked cell with a number of men, and she's really exposed to harassment and violence in that setting," Braverman said.

A woman wearing a dress poses in front of a sofa.
Christina Lusk of Minneapolis alleges in a lawsuit that the Department of Corrections is discriminating against her because she's transgender.
Courtesy of Gender Justice

Braverman said the department has refused to transfer her to the women’s prison in Shakopee.

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"They typically make their placement decisions, it's my understanding, based on genitalia, which they're not supposed to do,” Braverman said. “They need to really listen to the transgender people who are incarcerated, and what they have to say about their own sense of safety. They do have a duty of care to the people who are in their custody."

Lusk first filed a complaint with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights in early 2020 alleging that prison staff housed her in a room with seven men, required her to change her clothes and use the bathroom with men and called her by her former name.

The department did not comment on Lusk’s lawsuit directly, but said in a statement to MPR News that it's "committed to ensuring the safety and well-being" of transgender people. It has a Transgender Committee that makes recommendations on where inmates are placed.

Lusk alleges in her lawsuit that the committee has repeatedly declined her requests without explanation.