Transgender inmate’s suit against NC prison case can proceed


ASHEVILLE, N.C. — A federal judge ruled Tuesday that the case of a transgender inmate suing North Carolina for gender affirming medical care can proceed.

Kanautica Zayre-Brown sued North Carolina’s Department of Public Safety in April, claiming the prison system has failed to regularly dispense Zayre-Brown’s prescribed hormones and has denied her request for surgical procedure to construct a vagina.

U.S. District Judge Max Cogburn rejected the state’s motion to dismiss and said he intends to hear arguments in Zayre-Brown’s case, The Charlotte Observer reported. Cogburn also denied a motion by the American Civil Liberties Union for a preliminary injunction that would have allowed Zayre-Brown to have surgery and receive prescriptions.

The ACLU argues Zayre-Brown, who is being held at Anson Correctional Institution, has been denied treatment and gone through the grievance process twice. Lawyers for the department argued she failed to exhaust every possible remedy before bringing the issue to court. Cogburn said the case is important to deciding whether people in custody have a right to gender affirming surgery and care.

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals determined last week that gender dysphoria is covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Zayre-Brown has been serving a sentence of up to nearly 10 years since 2017 after being convicted as a habitual offender on insurance fraud charges. In 2019, officials moved Zayre-Brown to the women’s prison after months of review and the threat of a lawsuit. The state had classified Zayre-Brown as a man and placed her in a men’s prison. At the time, she was believed to be the state’s only post-operative transgender prisoner.

Zayre-Brown is scheduled to be released from prison in November 2024.

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