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Thursday, February 22, 2024
Courthouse News Service
Thursday, February 22, 2024 | Back issues
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Transgender Former Inmate Settles With CA

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - A transgender woman who persuaded a federal judge to force California to pay for sex-reassignment surgery while in prison has settled her case with the state.

Michelle Norsworthy won a historic preliminary injunction in April 2015 when U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar ordered the state to pay for her surgery, ruling that it violated her constitutional rights by denying the procedure.

Tigar disagreed with the department's medical experts' claims that the surgery was not essential and ruled that it was denying her "the necessary treatment for reasons unrelated to her medical need."

The state immediately appealed the landmark ruling and while the case was being tried, released her on parole. Critics accused state officials of releasing Norsworthy, convicted of second-degree murder in 1987, to avoid paying for the sex-reassignment surgery and setting a precedent.

On Tuesday, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation agreed to drop its appeal and provide hundreds of thousands of dollars to cover Norsworthy's attorney's fees.

Norsworthy's attorneys called Tigar's ruling "groundbreaking" and said Tuesday's settlement will help set a critical legal precedent for transgender inmates' medical care.

"It's clear: prisons have a legal constitutional obligation not to deny the medical needs or humanity of transgender people just because of who they are," Transgender Law Center director Flor Bermudez said in a statement.

Norsworthy's lawsuit had an immediate impact, since this past August the department agreed to fund another transgender inmate's surgery and transfer her to a women's facility. It also agreed to create the nation's first inmate-access policy for gender-affirming surgery.

Norsworthy, who now lives in San Francisco, says she was raped six times in prison and repeatedly denied basic medical care throughout her 30 years in California state prisons.

"This settlement is a message that transgender people's medical needs are real and cannot be dismissed by the state just because of who we are. Even though I have been released, this settlement means that there is an undisputed legal precedent out there for all of the transgender people still suffering in prison today," Norsworthy, 52, said in a statement.

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