Transgender inmate's attorneys oppose delay in surgery
Apr. 23, 2015
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Attorneys representing a transgender prison inmate want a judge to stand by his order that California officials must immediately provide the inmate with sex reassignment surgery that they say is urgent and critical to her health.
In arguments filed late Wednesday, the lawyers opposed any delay while the state appeals the decision issued earlier this month by U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar of San Francisco.
Tigar ruled that the surgery is medically necessary for 51-year-old Michelle-Lael Norsworthy, whose birth name is Jeffrey Bryan Norsworthy.
It is just the second time that a judge in the country has directed a state prison system to provide the surgery. The previous order in a Massachusetts case was overturned last year and is being appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
"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," said Kris Hayashi, executive director of the Transgender Law Center in Oakland that helped represent Norsworthy.
Corrections department spokeswoman Deborah Hoffman declined comment but pointed to the state's earlier argument that Tigar should stay his preliminary injunction until he can conduct a full trial.
"Norsworthy has been treated for gender dysphoria for over 20 years, and there is no indication that her condition has somehow worsened to the point where she must obtain sex-reassignment surgery now rather than waiting until this case produces a final judgment on the merits," the state argued in its April 10 request for a stay.
The dysphoria occurs when someone's gender at birth is contrary to the way they identify.
The state is asking the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn Tigar's finding that denying the surgery violates her constitutional rights.
"The state should not be trying to get in the way of care that all the evidence shows is urgent and critical to Michelle's health," Hayashi added.
Norsworthy is serving a life sentence for murder in Mule Creek State Prison, a men's prison 40 miles southeast of Sacramento, although she has lived as a woman since the 1990s.
She is among 22 transgender men and 363 transgender women who are currently receiving hormone therapy in California prisons. The department said it is providing care that judges nationwide have found to be appropriate for transgender inmates. Courts elsewhere have ordered hormone treatments, psychotherapy and other treatments but not surgery.
The judge set no schedule for when he will rule on the state's request for a stay.
He said in his previous order that any delay "constitutes irreparable injury."
Norsworthy would be the first inmate to receive such surgery in California if Tigar's order stands.
Attorneys with the Transgender Law Center in Oakland, who helped represent Norsworthy, estimated the cost of her surgery would be about $15,000. They disputed a previous estimate by a spokeswoman for the state's prison health system that the cost could near $100,000,