Inmate Michelle-Lael Norsworthy will undergo sex change surgery funded by the state of California, and now civil rights groups are defending the controversial procedure.
Norsworthy, who was born Jeffrey Bryan Norsworthy, started living as a woman in the 1990s in state prison, where she is serving a life sentence for murder. She was diagnosed with severe gender dysphoria, and this week a judge determined that she has been receiving insufficient medical care by not being given the sex change surgery she needed.
In the ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Jon S. Tigar said the inmate should have the sex change surgery “as promptly as possible.”
“The weight of the evidence demonstrates that for Norsworthy, the only adequate medical treatment for her gender dysphoria is SRS, that the decision not to address her persistent symptoms was medically unacceptable under the circumstances, and that [California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation] denied her the necessary treatment for reasons unrelated to her medical need,” Tigar wrote in his ruling.
The case sparked debate among those who believe that the state should not be paying for gender reassignment surgery. Others thought it was a waste of the roughly $100,000 it reportedly costs.
The inmate sex change surgery sparked debate online, drawing many angry comments after CBS Sacramento asked viewer via Facebook about the ruling.
“I’m losing my home because of unemployment and there’s no help for me, but this person gets a sex change at taxpayer’s expense? Absolutely ridiculous. This makes me so angry!” wrote on commenter
“How about using that money to help veterans,” another wrote.
There are already nine states that require private insurers to cover gender transition surgery, and public insurance programs also cover these procedures.
In his ruling, Tigar wrote that denying the inmate a sex change surgery would violate her constitutional rights, and civil rights groups agree. The Transgender Law Center said the ruling is a major step in the rights of transgendered persons.
“This decision confirms that it is unlawful to deny essential treatment to transgender people” in or out of prison, Kris Hayashi, executive director of the Transgender Law Center, told the AP. “The bottom line is no one should be denied the medical care they need.”
Michelle-Lael Norsworthy would not be the first inmate to have sex change surgery. Richard Masbruch, a prisoner from Texas, was given gender reassignment surgery out of necessity after he castrated himself.
[Image via California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation]