Transgender Inmate’s Surgery Put on Hold

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – The historic and court-ordered sex reassignment surgery for a California inmate is in doubt after a 9th Circuit panel granted the state a stay on Thursday.
     The three-judge panel offered no detail or reasons for its decision, other than to say the case “presents serious legal questions.” The panel scheduled a hearing on the matter for the week of August 10.
     Last week, the state told U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar it had set inmate Michelle Norsworthy’s SRS surgery for July 1. It would have been the first sex reassignment surgery performed on an inmate in the state’s history.
     “We are pleased with the stay, which will allow the 9th Circuit to review the merits of this appeal,” said Deborah Hoffman, assistant secretary of communications for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
     In a curious and timely twist, the state parole board found Norsworthy eligible for parole on the same day as the panel’s decision. The state has 120 days to review Norsworthy’s case and she could be released from prison without having the SRS performed by the state.
     Norsworthy’s legal representation said that while it’s excited her parole hearing was successful, it’s disappointed that the state continues to fight the surgery.
     “Whether you’re transgender or not, everyone should find it troubling that the state is trying to further delay the care that all the evidence showed is critical for Michelle’s health,” said Ilona Turner, legal director of the Transgender Law Center. “We are disappointed that the stay was granted, as delays like this cause Michelle serious harm every single day.”
     Norsworthy, 51, was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison in 1987. She is currently housed at Mule Creek State Prison. The state classified the prison as exclusively “special-needs yards” in 2005 and houses only inmates that need to be segregated from mainline inmates for their protection.
     If the parole board finalizes Norsworthy’s case, then Gov. Jerry Brown would have 30 days to accept or deny the decision.
     The state has argued that Norsworthy’s SRS is unnecessary and that it could cost taxpayers up to $100,000 to perform.
     If the state wins its appeal in the 9th Circuit or releases Norsworthy before the decision, she could qualify to have the surgery performed through Medi-Cal, California’s taxpayer-funded medical system.
     “Still, we are delighted by the possibility of parole for Michelle and are confident that she will find support networks and services upon release, including access to gender-affirming surgery through Medi-Cal should the CDCR fail to provide her the care that the court and her medical providers have concluded she urgently needs” Turner said.
     Corrections officials argue none of its medical experts have determined the surgery is medically necessary and that Norsworthy’s condition hasn’t worsened as a result of being denied surgery.
     On April 2, Tigar disagreed with the state and accused its expert witnesses of having a profound misunderstanding of gender dysphoria.
     Tigar ruled the CDCR violates Norsworthy’s constitutional rights by denying her access to the surgery and that it must pay for the SRS, and later ordered the state to make it happen “as promptly as possible.

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