In 'historic' ruling Calif. ordered to pay $100K for transgender inmate's sex change

Michelle-Lael Norsworthy. (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation)
California, currently facing water shortages, has money to pay for an inmate's costly sex change operation. A federal judge in San Francisco has ordered the state's corrections department to provide a transgender woman with sex change surgery.

It's the first time such an operation has been ordered in the state. According to the spokeswoman for the federal receiver, who controls California prison medical care, the surgery could cost taxpayers as much as $100,000.
US District Court Judge Jon Tigar ruled on Thursday that denying sex reassignment surgery to 51-year-old Michelle-Lael Norsworthy (whose birth name is Jeffrey Bryan) violates her rights to adequate medical care under the Eighth Amendment to the constitution. Corrections officials say they are considering whether to appeal the ruling.

An executive director of the Transgender Law Center, Kris Hayashi, said the court's "historic decision" confirmed that it’s unlawful to deny essential treatment to transgender people.

Reuters/Lucy Nicholson

The prison had previously denied Michelle her gender-affirming surgery, although according to her treating psychologist it was medically necessary to treat her gender identity disorder.

The judge found that prison administrators “chose to ignore the clear recommendations of her mental health provider” and instead of following his recommendations, simply "removed her from his care."

Michelle testified she was suffering psychological pain caused by her untreated gender disorder (a diagnosis describing people who experience extreme discontent with the sex and gender they were born with.) The judge specifically rejected California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation's (CDCR) argument that the length of time she has been suffering meant it wasn't urgent.

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“The continuation of . . . suffering constitutes irreparable injury, whether this is the first month she has suffered it or the hundredth,” Jon S. Tigar said, ordering CDCR to provide the inmate “adequate medical care, including sex reassignment surgery . . . as promptly as possible.”

The judge concluded the prison made its decision to deny Michelle medical care based not on any individualized assessment, but because of “a blanket policy barring SRS [sex reassignment surgery] as a treatment for transgender inmates.”

According to Transgender Law Center legal director, Ilona Turner, "this is a tremendous victory for her [Michelle] and for all transgender people incarcerated in California.”

Nine states, including California, already require private insurers to cover medical care related to gender transition, and public insurance programs like Medicare and California’s Medicaid system also cover this type of care.
If the operation is performed, it will be the second time for such a procedure in US prisons. The first case was Richard Masbruch, an inmate in Texas, who castrated himself and was given the surgery out of necessity.