Parole could end transgender inmate’s effort to have reassignment surgery

Michelle-Lael Norsworthy

Michelle-Lael Norsworthy \

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A California inmate who is seeking sex reassignment surgery at taxpayers’ expense faces a painful irony: If she wins freedom from a parole board, she would no longer be eligible for the prison-funded operation she says is crucial to her emotional health.

Michelle-Lael Norsworthy

Michelle-Lael Norsworthy

State officials say 51-year-old Michelle-Lael Norsworthy has postponed her parole hearing several times with the hope of having the surgery. They are citing the delays as they appeal a judge’s order that she undergo the procedure as soon as possible.

Norsworthy is set for a parole hearing Thursday after four delays in six months. Her surgery is set for July 1 unless delayed by the appeals court.

The state contends the hearing could lead to her release and end her lawsuit seeking the procedure.

“The only factor that seemed to show any type of urgency for Ms. Norsworthy’s request was her scheduled parole hearing, which she postponed and might have led to her release, rendering her constitutional claims moot,” the state said in its appeal.

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Attorneys for Norsworthy say she was not responsible for the hearing delays and, if paroled, she would be eligible for Medi-Cal, which covers medically necessary sex reassignment surgeries.

Estimates of the cost for the surgery and related treatment have ranged as high as $100,000, though Norsworthy’s attorneys say that is exaggerated.

Norsworthy is being held at Mule Creek State Prison, a men’s prison in Ione, near Sacramento.

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