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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, April 10, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 15
California prisons must provide surgery for Trans prisoner, federal judge says
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California prisons must provide surgery for Trans prisoner, federal judge says

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

A federal judge has ordered the California state prison system to provide sex reassignment surgery for a Transgender inmate.

U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar ruled on April 1 that California violated the constitutional rights of inmate Micelle-Lael Norsworthy when it denied her access to surgery in 2012.

Norsworthy's prison doctor and her psychiatrist agreed that surgery was medically necessary in her case. She is already receiving counseling and hormone therapy.

The California Department of Corrections argued that since she had already been waiting for surgery for several years, it could not be considered medically necessary.

The judge disagreed, however, and ordered them to provide surgery as soon as possible.

The prison 'chose to ignore the clear recommendations of her mental health provider' and 'instead of following his recommendations, they removed her from his care,' Tigar said in his ruling.

Norsworthy was represented by the Transgender Law Center.

'No one should be denied the medical care they need. There is a clear medical consensus that health care related to gender transition is necessary - and life-saving - for many people,' Kris Hayashi, Executive Director of the Transgender Law Center, said in a statement:

'This decision confirms that it's unlawful to deny essential treatment to transgender people. With this historic decision, Michelle will now be able to get the medical care she desperately needs.'

'The court absolutely got it right. Michelle has been suffering for years because of the prison system's unconstitutional policy against providing transgender inmates the medical care they need,' the group's Legal Director Ilona Turner added.

'This is a tremendous victory for her and for all transgender people incarcerated in California.'

Tigar's ruling runs counter to a December 2014 appellate ruling in a similar case. In that decision, the First U.S. Circuit Court reversed a lower court decision, and held that a Trans prisoner in Massachusetts, Michelle Kosilek, did not have a right to reassignment surgery.

Kosilek has appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Tigar's district is in California, which is in the jurisdiction of the Ninth Circuit, and so he is not bound by the First Circuit's ruling in Kosilek's case.

If California does not appeal Tigar's decision, or if the Ninth Circuit upholds it on appeal, it will mark the first time that federal courts have ordered surgery for a Trans inmate.

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