In ‘historic’ ruling Calif. ordered to pay $100K for transgender inmate’s sex change

Michelle-Lael Norsworthy. (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation)

Michelle-Lael Norsworthy. (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation)

California, currently facing water shortages, has money to pay for an inmate’s costly sex change operation. A federal judge in San Francisco has ordered the state’s corrections department to provide a transgender woman with sex change surgery.

It’s the first time such an operation has been ordered in the
state. According to the spokeswoman for the federal receiver, who
controls California prison medical care, the surgery could cost
taxpayers as much as $100,000.

US District Court Judge Jon Tigar ruled on Thursday that denying
sex reassignment surgery to 51-year-old Michelle-Lael Norsworthy
(whose birth name is Jeffrey Bryan) violates her rights to
adequate medical care under the Eighth Amendment to the
constitution. Corrections officials say they are considering
whether to appeal the ruling.

An executive director of the Transgender Law Center, Kris
Hayashi, said the court’s “historic decision” confirmed
that it’s unlawful to deny essential treatment to transgender

Reuters/Lucy Nicholson

The prison had previously denied Michelle her gender-affirming
surgery, although according to her treating psychologist it was
medically necessary to treat her gender identity disorder.

The judge found that prison administrators “chose to ignore
the clear recommendations of her mental health provider”
instead of following his recommendations, simply “removed her
from his care.”

Michelle testified she was suffering psychological pain caused by
her untreated gender disorder (a diagnosis describing people who
experience extreme discontent with the sex and gender they were
born with.) The judge specifically rejected California Department
of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s (CDCR) argument that the
length of time she has been suffering meant it wasn’t urgent.

READ MORE: ‘Make room’: California needs
funds to expand crowded death row

“The continuation of . . . suffering constitutes irreparable
injury, whether this is the first month she has suffered it or
the hundredth,”
Jon S. Tigar said, ordering CDCR to provide
the inmate “adequate medical care, including sex reassignment
surgery . . . as promptly as possible.”

The judge concluded the prison made its decision to deny Michelle
medical care based not on any individualized assessment, but
because of “a blanket policy barring SRS [sex reassignment
surgery] as a treatment for transgender inmates.”

According to Transgender Law Center legal director, Ilona Turner,
this is a tremendous victory for her [Michelle] and for all
transgender people incarcerated in California.”

Nine states, including California, already require private
insurers to cover medical care related to gender transition, and
public insurance programs like Medicare and California’s Medicaid
system also cover this type of care.

If the operation is performed, it will be the second time for
such a procedure in US prisons. The first case was Richard
Masbruch, an inmate in Texas, who castrated himself and was given
the surgery out of necessity.

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