Ashley Diamond, the Georgia inmate whose lawsuit is making her a protagonist in transgender rights history, said in her first federal court appearance on Monday that she had come to blame herself for being a victim of multiple prison rapes, internalizing the guilt placed on her by corrections officials.
Ms. Diamond, a transgender woman who has been housed in male prisons since entering the system three years ago, said, “If I wasn’t so feminine, maybe if I didn’t talk the way I talked or move the way I moved, I would be less of a victim that way.”
Turning to address the judge directly, she continued in a soft voice: “I also feel a little less human because when I did report things, the very people I wanted help from, Your Honor, would tell me things like, ‘You brought this on yourself.’ “
Judge Marc T. Treadwell of United States District Court nonetheless denied Ms. Diamond’s request that he order her transferred to a lower-security prison. While that might well be “the optimum solution,” higher courts have warned district judges “not to second-guess prison authorities,” he said, and Ms. Diamond had not proved their “deliberate indifference” to her fear of sexual assault and harassment.
Instead, Georgia authorities appeared to have made a “tectonic shift” as a result of the lawsuit she filed in February, Judge Treadwell said a couple of weeks ago, at the first part of Ms. Diamond’s hearing. He described it as a “tactical victory” for Ms. Diamond’s lawyers at the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The judge was referring to Georgia’s decision, after the Justice Department intervened in Ms. Diamond’s case and a subsequent profile in The New York Times brought it considerable attention, to end its blanket denial of new hormone therapy to transgender inmates.
Earlier this month, Georgia said it would now provide such prisoners with “constitutionally appropriate medical and mental health treatment.” It started Ms. Diamond on hormone therapy in March, though her lawyers say the dose appears too low to be therapeutic.
In court, Ms. Diamond explained to the judge that when she entered the prison system, “I had breasts that were quite full, Your Honor, unlike now.”
Wearing close-cropped hair and a white uniform with “state prisoner” printed on the back, Ms. Diamond looked little like the womanly photographs of herself in the days when she wore flirty wigs and form-fitting minidresses. She had ended up in prison for what the sentencing judge referred to as “crimes of survival”; her major offense was burglary.
Testimony in Ms. Diamond’s case is highlighting the difficulties that prison systems across the country are experiencing as they grapple with an inmate population that defies their rigid classification systems and needs special protection.
While Georgia State Prison officials — also in response to her lawsuit — recently issued Ms. Diamond a couple of bras, they have insisted on referring to her as “Mr. Diamond” in court.
“It is a male facility, sir, and he is, indeed for what I have been told from my experience, it is a male offender,” testified Janet Brewton, a deputy warden, who added that she had been responsible for overseeing transgender women inmates since 1996.
“So for 20 years, you’ve been referring to transgender inmates with the male pronoun because you view the facility as a male facility?” Ms. Diamond’s lawyer, David Dinielli, asked.
“That is correct, sir,” the deputy warden said.
Monday’s hearing concerned only Ms. Diamond’s request for an immediate transfer from Georgia State Prison. It did not address the allegations that corrections authorities had failed to protect her from serious harm before she filed her lawsuit, during a period when, she said, she endured seven rapes and attempted suicide and auto-castration multiple times.
Ms. Diamond had claimed that her recent transfer to Georgia State — a prison that used to house the state’s most dangerous inmates — was retaliatory for her lawsuit.
But the judge said that the state had made a persuasive argument that it had transferred her as a “positive” reaction to the lawsuit. She is housed in the system’s smallest unit, which has 11 inmates, all with individual cells. It is a supported living unit for rape victims and for inmates with special mental health needs, state officials said, and they testified that they had increased security there over the past couple of weeks.
Ms. Diamond, however, testified that she had been sexually harassed, threatened and forced to pay protection money since her arrival. She said she had not gone to the mess hall for 17 days because she feared encounters with maximum-security inmates there. She said that when she declined to be put in protective custody, which she called “lockdown,” prison officials coerced her into signing affidavits saying she was doing well. (Officials denied any coercion.)
The prison’s psychologist was subpoenaed by Ms. Diamond’s lawyers but did not appear in court on Monday; state officials said he had taken suddenly ill. Ms. Diamond said in court that the psychologist had told her that he was afraid he would lose his job if he testified “truthfully.” The judge said this gave him some “lingering concerns.”
Given a couple of minutes to embrace her mother and sobbing sister before being shackled for transport back to prison, Ms. Diamond sought to comfort them. “It’s not over,” she said. “It’s just the beginning. Y’all stay strong.”