A transgender inmate who fought for a legal name change while serving a life sentence in Florida was found dead in her cell at a prison for men, officials said.
Stacy Lorraine Naber, 30, identified as female and sought to formally shed her legal name, Justin Lee Naber, for months before she was found dead Aug. 6 at Dade Correctional Institution in Florida City.
Her attempts started with a civil rights lawsuit filed in federal court in December.
“Inmate Naber identifies exclusively as a female person,” she wrote on the complaint form. “Inmate Naber experiences severe mental anguish as inmate Naber is prohibited by law to be able to change his/her name to Stacy Lorraine Naber.”
Her request was repeatedly denied by the state.
The Florida Department of Corrections confirmed Naber’s death in a statement to The Washington Post, using the male pronouns that Naber shunned.
“Inmate Naber was pronounced deceased on August 6, 2016,” the statement read. “At the time of the inmate’s death, he was in administrative housing at Dade Correctional Institution and was housed alone. The death is currently under investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, with assistance from the Department’s Office of the Inspector General.”
The department declined to comment on Naber’s medical history or mental health in prison, citing privacy laws. A representative for the Miami-Dade County Medical Examiner Department told The Post that Naber’s autopsy report was not ready.
Naber’s aunt, Lee Kahn, 60, told the Miami Herald that Naber had hanged herself in her cell and that the family is demanding an explanation.
“He was in protective custody, and yet he managed to hang himself,” Kahn told the newspaper, using Naber’s legal name. “It struck me as odd.”
“I always thought Justin would never grow old in prison,” Kahn told the Herald. “You can’t be in that kind of place, and draw attention to yourself. And not just the prisoners, but the guards as well. … We’re not really getting the answers.”
Naber was convicted of second-degree murder for the 2011 stabbing of her roommate during an argument over rent money and was sentenced to life in prison in 2013, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
The newspaper also reported that after being arrested in Florida, Naber confessed to killing a 73-year-old man in Albuquerque in 2005.
Florida law prohibits incarcerated people from legally changing their names and says that the name provided when an inmate is committed “shall be the inmate’s official identification throughout the continuous incarceration of the inmate on that sentence or combined sentences and must be included on any official document sent or received,” with rare exceptions.
That was the law Naber challenged in December when she filed suit. Naber was committed in 2013 as Justin Lee Naber; she began calling herself Stacy Lorraine Naber after that, although it is unclear exactly when.
For Naber, changing her name to be consistent with her gender identity was “a critical element of her social transition and a necessary part of her transition-related care,” according an amendment that was made to her complaint after the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida picked up her case in February.
The suit alleged that denying Naber’s request was a violation of the due process clause of the 14th Amendment and of her First Amendment right to free speech. It also alleged that the name-change denial constituted “cruel and unusual punishment” by the state corrections department under the Eighth Amendment.
Naber’s request was rejected repeatedly, and her attorney withdrew the lawsuit upon her death.
“Naber fought for comprehensive treatment for her gender dysphoria for months but was denied each time,” her attorney, Daniel Tilley of the ACLU of Florida, told The Post in an email.
“Being called my female name is like magic — it’s beautiful,” Naber told the Miami Herald in July through Tilley. “It’s something I can’t even describe. I feel truly at peace with myself. It’s who I was meant to be.
“It pains me to know that I’ve asked politely and through the proper channels to be called Stacy. By repeatedly denying me, it’s like they don’t care if I get treatment.”
Naber was at Okeechobee Correctional Institute in December when she filed her complaint. In February, she was moved to Charlotte Correctional Institution in Punta Gorda, Fla., about 100 miles to the west.
She was moved again June 14 to Dade Correctional Institution, about 300 miles southeast, Tilley said.
All three prisons are designated as men’s facilities.
“I’m not sure why they moved her,” Tilley told The Post, adding that sometimes the corrections department transfers inmates so they can receive a certain level of mental health care.
That, Tilley wrote, is what happened to another client of his, Reiyn Keohane, an inmate who was transferred to the Charlotte facility after she engaged in genital mutilation because she was not receiving treatment for her gender dysphoria.
Keohane filed a lawsuit Monday in federal court, Tilley said.
According to her attorney, Naber sought hormone therapy in addition to a name change, although the therapy was not part of her lawsuit.
Transgender is a term used to describe people whose gender identity differs from the sex on their birth certificates, according to GLAAD, a nonprofit that advocates for fair treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer communities.
“Trying to change a person’s gender identity is no more successful than trying to change a person’s sexual orientation — it doesn’t work,” according to a statement on the organization’s website. “So most transgender people seek to bring their bodies more into alignment with their gender identity.”
According to a 2011 survey by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National LGBTQ Task Force, transgender people are four times as likely to live in poverty. The group found that 90 percent of transgender people reported experiencing harassment, mistreatment or discrimination on the job, and 41 percent reported attempting suicide, compared with 1.6 percent of the general population.
The nonprofit also says transgender people can face extra challenges while incarcerated.
“Being transgender or gender non-conforming in an American jail or prison often means daily humiliation, physical and sexual abuse, and fear of reprisals for using the legal remedies to address underlying problems,” according to a statement on the center’s website.
A previous version of this article failed to cite the National LGBTQ Task Force as the co-author of a 2011 study on transgender discrimination. The post has been updated.