No Delay for Transgender Inmate’s Surgery

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – A federal judge ordered the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to continue the process of giving sex-reassignment surgery to an inmate, denying the CDCR’s motion for a stay.
     U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar denied the CDCR’s motion Monday, finding that the CDCR is not likely to succeed in an appeal to the 9th Circuit and that transgender inmate Michelle Norsworthy will continue to suffer by further delaying her SRS surgery.
     On April 2 Tigar ruled that prison officials violated Norsworthy’s constitutional rights by denying her SRS surgery and the procedure should happen “as promptly as possible.”
     The CDCR appealed Tigar’s ruling to the 9th Circuit just three days later, claiming Norsworthy has received adequate hormone therapy treatment while in prison and that the ruling potentially denies them appellate review.
     Tigar ruled Norsworthy’s surgery will not prevent the state from appealing its policy in future similar cases and that the surgery must happen while the CDCR awaits appeal.
     Norsworthy, 51, was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison in 1987. She began living as a woman while in prison and has received hormone treatment since 2000.
     She has also been raped at least six times in prison and now has liver complications after contracting hepatitis C from a gang rape, Tigar has said.
     Tigar ruled that Norsworthy continues to suffer psychologically and physically as a result of her gender dysphoria and the CDCR’s motion to delay surgery until after its appeal will cause her substantial injury.
     “Norsworthy has shown that she suffers continuing psychological and emotional pain as a result of her gender dysphoria and that she is at risk of significant worsening of her condition in the event that her hormone therapy must again be modified or discontinued because of liver complications,” Tiger wrote.
     Norsworthy’s surgery will be the first ever performed on an inmate in California, with the costs covered by the state. Opponents of the ruling say the surgery will be expensive and could lead to more inmates demanding SRS surgery at taxpayers’ expense.
     Assembly Republican Leader Kristin Olsen wrote a letter asking the state to appeal Tigar’s initial ruling and to explore finding an outside source to the fund the surgery.
     “I urge you not to reward a convicted murderer with $100,000 of elective surgery at taxpayer expense,” Olsen wrote.
     Others dispute the price tag of the surgery, including Kris Hayashi, executive director of the Transgender Law Center in Oakland. Hayashi says the cost is in the range of $15,000-$30,000.
     Hayashi praised Tigar’s commitment to Norsworthy in a statement to Courthouse News.
     “We are glad Judge Tigar recognized the urgency for Michelle in receiving the care that all the evidence shows is critical for her health. The state provides essential medical care to all people being held in prison, and everyone – transgender or not – should find it troubling that the state is trying to take that away from Michelle just because of who she is.”
     A status hearing is scheduled for May 6.
     CDCR deputy press secretary Terry Thornton told Courthouse News the department “will seek a stay from the 9th Circuit pending this appeal.”

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