Minnesota corrections officials announced a legal agreement Thursday that clears the way for a transgender woman's history-making move from a men's prison to the women's facility in Shakopee and includes a payment to her of $495,000.
The state Department of Corrections (DOC) said that when Christina Lusk leaves the Moose Lake prison next week, she will be the agency's first transgender inmate to be moved to a facility that matches their gender identity.
"I believe we have made a big step toward allowing people to express who they truly are and bring some sort of peace and happiness to their lives," Lusk said in a statement released by Gender Justice, a St. Paul organization that joined with the Robins Kaplan law firm to represent her in a lawsuit against the DOC.
"This journey has brought extreme challenges, and I have endured so much. My hope is that nobody has to go through the same set of circumstances. ... I can truly say that I am a strong, proud transgender woman, and my name is Christina Lusk."
Lusk said in her suit that she was assigned to a men's dormitory at Moose Lake and had to use the restroom and dress while among male inmates. Within the first two months of her imprisonment, according to the suit, "Ms. Lusk had been repeatedly sexually abused in her group cell."
She's been reprimanded for having breasts and wearing women's clothing, according to the suit. Yet, she has also been reprimanded for not wearing a bra while her bras were being laundered.
The suit also said Lusk "has been searched by male staff despite being approved for female searches only. Male staff have stared at Ms. Lusk's breasts and have watched her change her clothing."
The lawsuit was filed in June 2022 in Ramsey County District Court.
Under the DOC's new transgender policy, which took effect in January, Minnesota is among 11 states and the District of Columbia that allow transfers to facilities matching an incarcerated person's gender identity rather than their gender assigned at birth.
As part of the settlement and in accordance with the DOC's new policy, the agency said Lusk will have access to a transgender health care specialist to determine whether gender-affirming surgery is medically necessary and then assist her should she undergo the procedure.
"The DOC is constitutionally obligated to provide medically necessary care for incarcerated people, which includes treatment for gender dysphoria," Corrections Commissioner Paul Schnell said in a statement. "Based on the facts of this specific case, the incarcerated person will now have access to the medical care she needs, she deserves and we have a legal obligation to provide."
Department spokesman Andy Skoogman added that the new policy is consistent with Gov. Tim Walz's executive order protecting the rights of Minnesotans to receive gender-affirming care.
The DOC said 48 transgender inmates are included among its total prison population of slightly more than 8,000.
Under the department's new policy, transfer requests will be granted unless the desired placement could increase the risk of harm to that person or those held in the preferred facility, Skoogman said.
Including Lusk, the DOC spokesman said Thursday afternoon, "we currently have six incarcerated persons who identify as transgender who have requested a transfer based on their gender identity."
The $495,000 settlement includes $250,000 to cover Lusk's legal fees and expenses.
Lusk was born in Rochester in 1965, graduated from Irondale High School in New Brighton, married and had two children before coming out as transgender in 2008. Since then, she has undergone hormonal treatments and had breast augmentation while continuing to transition to what she is legally and medically recognized to be — female.
While living in Minneapolis, in 2018, Lusk was charged with a felony drug offense, pleaded guilty and began serving time in the men's prison in St. Cloud in March 2019 before soon being transferred to Moose Lake.
She petitioned the DOC twice previously to be moved to the women's prison at Shakopee and lost both times. Her lawsuit said the rulings were made without explanation.
Lusk is scheduled to leave prison in May 2024, when she will be on supervised release until February 2027.
"Thanks to Christina Lusk's willingness to speak out, transgender people in custody will now have expanded access to the housing and health care they need, and the legal protections they deserve," said Gender Justice Legal Director Jess Braverman.