In a very rare ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Jon Tigar in San Francisco ruled Thursday that Michelle-Lael Norsworthy’s constitutional rights were being violated if the inmate’s “serious medical need” was not met. The serious medical need is the fact that the inmate, born with male genitalia, identifies as female and has been transgender since the 1990’s. The judge stated that it is causing mental anguish to not allow Norsworthy the surgery to have male genitalia removed and female genitalia created.
“The weight of the evidence demonstrates that for Norsworthy, the only adequate medical treatment for her gender dysphoria (is sexual reassignment surgery). The evidence suggests that Norsworthy’s request for SRS was denied because (the Department of Corrections) has a blanket policy barring SRS as a treatment for transgender inmates.”
Norsworthy, 51 years old, is serving time at Mule Creek State Prison in Ione, California. Born Jeffrey Bryan Norsworthy, he was convicted of murder and is serving his sentence for the same, according to the Associated Press.
Norsworthy entered the correctional institution in 1987 and began to identify as a female in the 1990s, and in 2000 was diagnosed with dysphoria — defined as unhappiness or dissatisfaction — related to the fact that her genitalia does not reflect the gender she perceives herself to be. The surgery is scheduled to happen soon, and it will be the first of its kind to take place for an inmate in California. It has been estimated that it will cost as much as $100,000, according to Joyce Hayhoe, spokeswoman for California Corrections Health Care Services.
However, this is not the first time this type of decision has been made regarding an inmate in the United States.
The ruling marks the second time nationwide that a judge has issued a ruling directing a state prison system to provide the surgery, said Ilona Turner, legal director at the Transgender Law Center in Oakland, which was a source of legal representation for Norsworthy.
The previous order in a Massachusetts case was overturned last year, however, and is being appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. An inmate in Texas has been given gender reassignment surgery before in California, but it was out of physical necessity after he castrated himself in his prison cell.
California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation officials said they are possibly going to appeal the ruling. Public response has been one of outrage, as Norsworthy is a convicted murderer and most private insurances don’t even pay for elective gender reassignment.
Kris Hayashi, executive director of the Transgender Law Center, said it is of no consequence that Norsworthy is a prison inmate.
“This decision confirms that it is unlawful to deny essential treatment to transgender people. The bottom line is no one should be denied the medical care they need.”
[photo via hngn.com]