Judge orders California to pay for inmate's sex change

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Friday, April 3, 2015
Michelle-Lael Norsworthy / Jeffrey Bryan Norsworthy.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- A federal judge on Thursday ordered California's corrections department to provide a transsexual inmate with sex change surgery, the first time such an operation has been ordered in the state.

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

The ruling says it would be the second time nationwide that such a surgery has been performed on an inmate, an apparent reference to an inmate who castrated himself in Texas then was given the surgery out of necessity.

Norsworthy has lived as a woman since the 1990s and has what Tigar termed severe gender dysphoria.

"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.

He found that the decision by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to deny the procedure was medically unacceptable under the circumstances.

Corrections officials said they are considering whether to appeal the ruling.

Attorneys for Norsworthy did immediately comment.

"This would be a first" for California, said Joyce Hayhoe, a spokeswoman for the federal receiver who controls California prison medical care. The cost to taxpayers for such surgery is uncertain, she said.

"It's several tens of thousands of dollars, possibly close to $100,000, depending on the circumstances. But It's hard to estimate," Hayhoe said.