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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, May 8, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 19
No surgery for Transgender inmate, SCOTUS rules
Section One
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No surgery for Transgender inmate, SCOTUS rules

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

The U.S. Supreme Court has turned down an appeal from a Transgender inmate seeking gender reassignment surgery in a brief May 4 order.

The high court did not comment on its reasons for rejecting the appeal of Michelle Kosilek, who is currently an inmate in a Massachusetts state prison. She had been fighting for 15 years to get medically necessary treatment for her gender transition.

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, a Republican who took office in January, said he was pleased with the high court's decision.

'In this particular case I was not in favor of using taxpayer money to pay for this surgery,' Baker said.

'This is a terrible and inhumane result for Michelle,' countered Jennifer Levi, director of the Transgender Rights Project for GLAD (Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders), who represented Kosilek.

Levi said even though Kosilek has exhausted all the legal avenues available to her, the fight for other inmates will continue.

'But it is just a matter of time before some prison somewhere is required to provide essential surgery, meeting the minimal Constitutional obligations of adequate medical care for transgender people in prison,' she said.

Kosilek first sued the Massachusetts prison system in 2000, charging that the state's failure to provide transition care amounted to a violation of the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment. She won that suit in 2002, and was given hormone therapy and counseling.

She then filed eight other lawsuits asking for additional treatments, including electrolysis and surgery.

In 2012, U.S. District Judge Mark Wolf ruled that she was entitled to surgery, and his decision was initially upheld by a panel of the First Circuit Court. An en banc hearing of the appellate court reversed Wolf's decision, however, leading to Kosilek's appeal to the Supreme Court.

In April, a federal judge in California ruled that California state prisons must provide surgery for another inmate, Michelle-Lael Norsworthy. Norsworthy was represented by the Transgender Law Center. She has been fighting for surgery since 2012.

The California prison system has not yet indicated if it will appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court in hopes of overruling Tigar's decision.

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