A Texas woman might be the first person to get gender affirmation surgery in federal prison

A judge approved the procedure after citing concerns for her mental health and safety.

Bureau of Prisons

A trans woman in Texas could become the first to receive gender affirming surgery while serving her sentence in a federal prison. Cristina Nichole Iglesias, 47, has been petitioning the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to get the surgery since 2016. She was always denied until last month, when the Obama-appointed federal judge Nancy Rosenstengel ordered the BOP to reconsider Iglesias’s case, citing concerns for her mental health and safety.

Iglesias is serving the last of a 20-year sentence for sending threats to the British government when she was 19 years old (threats of this nature can be, in some cases, considered a violent crime depending on how likely it is for a person to carry it out). During the past several years, she was placed in all-male prisons where she experienced violence and threats to her life, according to the ACLU.

Although it’s not a guarantee yet that Iglesias will be given the surgery, the burden now falls on the BOP’s Transgender Executive Council (TEC) to give detailed medical reasons if they choose to deny Iglesias again, according to the Dallas Morning News. Rosenstengel also ordered the BOP to make a decision by January 24 and the BOP would be responsible for making sure Iglesias receives the surgery before her release in December 2022. This is all happening just months after Iglesias won a lawsuit against the BOP and became one of the few transgender prisoners to ever be moved to a federal prison that aligns with her gender.

The fact that Iglesias is likely to get gender-affirming surgery while in an American prison, an institution that has historically disregarded the lives of trans people, is a huge and unprecedented win. There are approximately 1,200 transgender prisoners who are in federal custody and none of them have received gender-affirming surgery while serving their sentence. You know that a legal system is seriously broken when non-violent offenders like Iglesias are treated like property and not humans with the right to life with their correct gender identity.

As we celebrate Iglesias’s win, we can’t miss the forest for the trees: Trans people, especially trans people of color, continue to be disproportionately imprisoned in the United States. A staggering 1 in 6 transgender Americans and 1 in 2 Black transgender Americans has been incarcerated at some point in their lives, according to Lambda Legal. Although we can celebrate that people in the prison system might finally be getting much-needed medical procedures, it would be better still if trans folx — especially ones with non violent criminal charges — had the right to both gender identity and freedom.