Rainbows Behind Bars


By Kimberly Brandolisio, Franklin & Marshall College ‘20

America often prides itself on being progressive, diverse, and just. In many ways, this is true. I am grateful to live in a country that values freedom and equality, a country that is trying to move forward.

And yet, beneath the red, white, and blue pride, a decades-long struggle for LGBTQ+ rights still continues today. I strongly support the progress we have made towards LGBTQ+ rights, however I recognize that there is still a long way to go, especially after the discrimination surrounding the 2016 election. Despite the negativity and bigotry that seem to be threatening our country, I am happy to say that recently there has been a big step forward for transgender rights.

Transgender woman Shiloh Quine became the first U.S. inmate to receive state-funded sex-reassignment surgery, and is currently recovering from the procedure. Quine is serving a life sentence for the 1980 robbery, kidnapping, and murder of Shahid Ali Baig, a 33-year-old father of three. In August 2015, after a long legal battle, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation agreed to pay for Quine’s sex-reassignment surgery and subsequent transfer to a women’s facility.

This was a life-changing decision for Quine, who has identified as female since the age of nine. Despite taking hormones since her adolescence, Quine has been married and divorced twice, even having two children. She has attempted suicide multiple times and attempted to castrate herself in 1978. In prison, she was diagnosed with gender dysphoria, previously known as gender identity disorder, which often results in feelings of distress, anxiety, and depression. Quine’s psychologist recommended sex-reassignment surgery “on the basis of medical necessity,” adding that the surgery is “reasonable and necessary to alleviate severe pain.”

Quine’s struggles demonstrate that this surgery is not just a choice or a want; it’s a necessity. Quine is one of many that have spent years, even decades, waiting for America to give them the freedom and equality it promises. There are still countless people waiting, battling similar struggles. For Quine and others, sex-reassignment surgery is life-changing, but also life-saving.

On an even larger scale, this decision has positive repercussions for all transgender people’s rights in prison, specifically regarding medical treatment. After Quine’s case, California prisons are creating and implementing transgender-friendly policies. For example, transgender inmates will now be able to wear clothes and have items that align with their gender identity. There have been more requests for sex-reassignment surgeries, and although many are still denied, the hope is that this case will open more opportunities for transgender inmates.

Although there is still a lot of progress that needs to happen, this is a victory for not only Quine and transgender inmates, but also all transgender people who have been denied the medical treatment that they need. With this case as precedent, hopefully less sex-reassignment surgeries will be denied in the future.

However, not everyone is happy with the decision. The victim’s daughter, Farida Baig, opposed Quine’s request for the procedure in court. As a citizen of California, her taxes will go towards funding this surgery for her father’s murderer. Baig said this knowledge was “a slap in the face.” Imagining myself in her position, I absolutely cannot blame her.

Furthermore, it is disconcerting that it might become easier for criminals to receive this surgery, when it can be so difficult for law-abiding citizens to obtain due to financial obstacles and a lack of providers.

However, I maintain that this is a victory for transgender rights. Everybody needs medical care; everybody deserves necessary treatment. This case has set a precedent that I hope will have positive repercussions throughout the LGBTQ+ community, helping others to realize that they are human, too, and they deserve the same standard of care as anyone else. Our focus should be on increasing rights for all transgender people, and this is a positive step in the right direction. In the future, I hope that sex-reassignment surgery and other medical treatment will be easily accessible for all who need it, but for now this case has made significant progress in shedding light on the continuing struggle and pushing us towards transgender rights.

In an interview with the Transgender Law Center after the ruling, Quine said, “It shows the world is evolving, and starting to understand different viewpoints and perspectives better than in the past. People are learning to recognize the humanity in everybody. It’s been a long time coming.”

I hope that her statement is true, because as Americans we need to step up to the identity we advertise. We need to be progressive, diverse, and just. We need to fight for equality and freedom for all. We need to keep moving forward. Alongside our red, white, and blue pride, we need to have rainbow pride.

Source: Guerra, K. (2017, January 10). A convicted killer became the first U.S. inmate to get state-funded gender-reassignment surgery. Retrieved January 20, 2017, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2017/01/10/a-transgender-inmate-became-first-to-get-state-funded-surgery-advocates-say-fight-is-far-from-over/


  1. So as taxpayers we had to pay for the elective surgery of an oddball and freak – not to mention, a criminal But, that’s the legacy of Obama and the Democrats – “freaks of the world unite!”

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