California seeks to block inmate’s sex reassignment surgery

Michelle-Lael Norsworthy

Michelle-Lael Norsworthy \

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California officials want a federal appeals court to block a judge’s order that the state immediately provide a transgender prisoner with sex reassignment surgery.

Michelle-Lael Norsworthy

Michelle-Lael Norsworthy

The officials on Monday filed a request for a stay with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals while the state appeals the ruling by U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar that California’s corrections department must provide the surgery to 51-year-old Michelle-Lael Norsworthy.

Tigar denied the state’s request for a stay last week, ruling that Norsworthy is likely to win her case. In the meantime, the judge said she is suffering psychologically and emotionally while her rights are violated.

The San Francisco-based judge was just the second in the nation to order a state prison system to provide the surgery. An order in a Massachusetts case was overturned, and the U.S. Supreme Court let that rejection stand on Monday without comment.

If Tigar’s order stands, Norsworthy would be the first inmate to receive such surgery in California.

In its request to the higher court, the state argued that Norsworthy had received substantial gender-related treatment over the past 15 years. The state also argued that no treating physician has determined that reassignment surgery is medically necessary.

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Norsworthy was convicted of murder and is serving a life sentence in Mule Creek State Prison, a men’s prison near Sacramento, although she has lived as a woman since the 1990s.

She is among 22 transgender men and 363 transgender women currently receiving hormone therapy in California prisons. The department said it is providing care that judges nationwide have found to be appropriate for transgender inmates.

Ilona Turner, legal director of the Transgender Law Center in Oakland, California, which helped represent Norsworthy, argues that the state provides medical care to all people in prison and should not make an exception because of Norsworthy’s orientation.

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