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

Monday, January 28, 2013

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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9 more reader comments:

  1. I have mixed feelings on this issue. She is a prisoner and it is an elective surgery. There are far more people deserving of the surgery than one who is a felon.

    Posted on Monday, January 28, 2013 at 4:32pm
  2. No, it is NOT an elective surgery. In fact, this ruling specifically hinges on the fact that, under the standard of medical care appropriate to uphold the state’s obligations to prisoners regarding appropriate treatment, the surgery is indicated. They can’t deny it any more than they would deny any other major necessary surgery. She has a right to be evaluated, and if it is found that the treatment is indicated, she should receive it.

    Posted on Monday, January 28, 2013 at 4:36pm
  3. Not sure how I feel about this.

    Posted on Monday, January 28, 2013 at 4:36pm
  4. I have to disagree, it is not even covered under a law abiding citizens insurance. She is a criminal and the surgery is not a life saving procedure. Same for any other vanity operation.

    Posted on Monday, January 28, 2013 at 4:41pm
  5. “She is a criminal and the surgery is not a life saving procedure.”

    Excuse me, are you aware of the rate at which transgender people attempt suicide? Are you aware of the rate at which transgender people without access to appropriate medical care attempt to do it themselves, as this inmate has done, which is fucking dangerous? Are you aware of anything? Or are you just talking?

    Posted on Monday, January 28, 2013 at 4:48pm
  6. Posted on Monday, January 28, 2013 at 5:00pm
  7. I am very well aware. But with thousands of trans people who are law abiding citizens who can’t afford $75,000 worth of surgery… why give it to a felon? (I’m playing devils advocate). I am actually one of the few that thinks the surgery should be covered by insurance. But, I would rather see change come from a different avenue.

    Posted on Monday, January 28, 2013 at 5:05pm
  8. Maybe she can try to get out on good behavior, get a job, and save up for the surgery, without robbing banks or selling drugs, like I did.

    Posted on Monday, January 28, 2013 at 5:19pm
  9. im sorry but shes in jail she should not get to have a surgery that is paid for by tax payers

    Posted on Monday, January 28, 2013 at 5:52pm