Federal judge orders California to pay for transgender inmate’s sex change

Michelle-Lael Norsworthy

Michelle-Lael Norsworthy \

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A federal judge on Thursday ordered California‘s corrections department to provide a transgender inmate with sex reassignment surgery, the first time such an operation has been ordered in the state.

Michelle-Lael Norsworthy

Michelle-Lael Norsworthy

U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar in San Francisco ruled that denying the surgery to 51-year-old Michelle-Lael Norsworthy violates her constitutional rights. Her birth name is Jeffrey Bryan Norsworthy.

The ruling marks just the second time nationwide that a judge has issued an injunction directing a state prison system to provide the surgery, said Ilona Turner, legal director at the Transgender Law Center in Oakland, which helped represent Norsworthy.

The previous order in a Massachusetts case was overturned last year and is being appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In his ruling in California, Tigar cited testimony that the surgery has actually been performed just once on an inmate, an apparent reference to a person who castrated himself in Texas then was given the surgery out of necessity.

Norsworthy, who was convicted of murder, has lived as a woman since the 1990s and has what Tigar termed severe gender dysphoria – a condition that occurs when people’s gender at birth is contrary to the way they identify themselves.

“The weight of the evidence demonstrates that for Norsworthy, the only adequate medical treatment for her gender dysphoria is SRS,” Tigar wrote, referring to sex reassignment surgery.

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California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation officials said they were considering whether to appeal the ruling.

Norsworthy has been in prison since 1987, serving a life sentence for second-degree murder. She has twice delayed her scheduled parole hearings in recent months.

She currently is housed at Mule Creek State Prison, an all-male prison in Ione, 40 miles southeast of Sacramento.

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