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Judge grants transgender inmate’s request for sex change surgery evaluation

Saturday, August 31, 2013
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ROANOKE, Va. — A transgender Virginia prison inmate will soon be evaluated by a gender specialist as part of her lifelong quest for sex-change surgery.

U.S. District Court Judge James C. Turk in Roanoke says officials must grant Ophelia De’Lonta’s request to be examined as part of her lawsuit seeking a state-paid sex-change operation.

Ophelia De’Lonta

Turk granted the request earlier this week for the exam at De’Lonta’s expense, saying it was for valid legal discovery to support her ongoing suit, reported the Roanoke Times.

Turk said the court “sees no harm to defendants from allowing this modest request,” noting that state prison officials oppose the exam but did not raise any safety concern or practical objection.

But the judge did not rule on De’Lonta’s preliminary injunction request that the state pay for an official medical evaluation for her suitability for the procedure. Turk noted that lawyers for the state indicated that if the court allowed De’Lonta’s self-paid evaluation, that the state would very likely have her evaluated by a physician of its choosing as well. He asked for a report of its findings within two months.

De’Lonta has been in prison for 30 years serving a 73-year sentence for bank robbery.

She has been diagnosed with a severe form of a rare, medically recognized illness known as gender identity disorder. Her desire for a sex-reassignment surgery has prompted her several times to attempt to castrate herself.

Her attorneys have argued the evaluation is medically necessary because of the repeated castration attempts.

De’Lonta’s suit claims that denying her sex-assignment surgery is a violation of her Eighth Amendment right against cruel and unusual punishment.

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De’Lonta’s attorneys have said the surgery could be done at a cost to the state of about $20,000.

Similar lawsuits have failed in a handful of other states. Lawmakers in some states have tried to ban the use of taxpayer money for the operations.

A lawyer for the prison said at a Monday hearing that the state contests the suggestion that it has not provided medically necessary care. The state claims it has extensively addressed De’Lonta’s medical needs, including providing her with psychological counseling and hormone treatments and she has been allowed to dress as a woman in a men’s prison.

Turk had previously dismissed De’Lonta’s self-filed lawsuit in 2011 after he concluded the Virginia Department of Corrections was adequately treating De’Lonta’s gender identity disorder.

But a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in January sent her case back to the lower court, concluding that her constitutional claim should be heard.

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