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Appeals court rules state of Virginia violated transgender inmate’s rights

Monday, January 28, 2013
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RICHMOND, Va. — The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit on Monday ruled in favor of a transgender inmate, saying the state of Virginia violated her constitutional rights by not evaluating her for gender reassignment surgery.

The ruling allows Ophelia De’lonta, who reportedly suffers from Gender Identity Disorder (GID), to move her case forward in a lower court.

Ophelia De’lonta

De’lonta filed suit against the Virginia Department of Corrections (VDOC) in 2011, alleging that the department’s refusal to consider sex reassignment surgery violated her Eighth Amendment rights. The district court dismissed her case, holding that because VDOC was already providing some treatment for GID, it did not have to evaluate her for sex reassignment surgery.

Under a previous settlement agreement, the VDOC had been providing De’lonta with hormone treatment, therapy, and the opportunity to present as a woman to a degree consistent with prison security.

The treatment, however, was not sufficient to alleviate De’lonta’s symptoms — under accepted standards of care, a patient with GID should be evaluated for sex reassignment surgery when such treatments are unsuccessful. VDOC refused to allow De’lonta to undergo such an evaluation.

“The Court of Appeals recognized that prison officials may not arbitrarily refuse to consider sex reassignment surgery,” said ACLU of Virginia Legal Director Rebecca Glenberg. “This is an important step forward for transgender inmates.”

De’lonta had, in recent months, gone as far as trying to castrate herself because of her GID.

Virginia attorney Victor Glasberg, who represents De’lonta, said the ruling was not a surprise, though he said it was an important step for people who suffer from GID.

“GID patients and particularly GID inmates have historically received a very harsh reception from the courts,” said Glasberg. “Any favorable ruling is an occasion for optimism.”

De’lonta has been incarcerated since 1983, serving a 73-year sentence for bank robbery, drugs and other charges.

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