California’s corrections department said Friday that it will appeal a federal judge’s order that it immediately provide a transgender inmate with sex-reassignment surgery.
The state’s court filing challenges last week’s decision by U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar in San Francisco that the surgery is medically necessary for Michelle-Lael Norsworthy, 51.
Tigar ruled April 2 that denying the surgery to the inmate, whose birth name is Jeffrey Bryan Norsworthy, is a violation of constitutional rights.
It is just the second time nationwide that a judge has directed a state prison system to provide such a surgery. The previous order in a Massachusetts case was overturned last year and is being appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“The Court’s order effectively takes inmate health care out of CDCR’s hands and subjects it to an inmate’s personal preferences,” the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said its filing.
It is asking for a stay while the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals considers Tigar’s ruling, arguing that there is no immediate need to provide the surgery to someone who has been dealing with gender dysphoria for many years. The condition occurs when people’s gender at birth is contrary to the way they identify themselves.
Tigar already rejected those arguments when he issued a preliminary injunction after finding that Norsworthy’s “suffering constitutes irreparable injury, whether this is the first month she has suffered it or the hundredth.”
Ilona Turner, legal director of the Transgender Law Center in Oakland, California, that helped represent Norsworthy, said she is disappointed that the department is seeking “to delay the care that Michelle desperately needs” with an appeal that she said will waste taxpayer money on legal costs.
“The state provides essential medical care to all people being held in prison, and Michelle should not be an exception just because of who she is,” Turner said in a statement.
The state filed a notice of appeal while separately asking the judge to rule on its motion for a stay within seven days.
If Tigar’s order stands, Norsworthy would be the first inmate to receive such surgery in California.
The department had been urged by some state lawmakers, including Assembly Minority Leader Kristin Olsen, R-Riverbank, to appeal the order or find a way to pay for it without using taxpayer money. “The definition of justice does not include a $100,000 taxpayer-funded sex change operation,” Olsen wrote to state officials.
She and Assemblyman Devon Mathis, R-Visalia, both said the money could better be used for law-abiding citizens.
Norsworthy is serving a life sentence for murder but is eligible for parole. She has lived as a woman since the 1990s, and the department has provided her with hormone therapy it says has changed her appearance and voice to that of a woman. She also wears brassieres provided by the department and is allowed to wear her hair long.
Courts in other states have ordered hormone treatments, psychotherapy and other treatments but not surgery, and the department said its care follows what judges nationwide have found to be appropriate for transgender inmates.