Judge's order for inmate's sexual reassignment may be appealed

Judge's order for inmate's sexual reassignment may be appealed
Michelle-Lael Norsworthy, 51, is housed at Mule Creek State Prison in Ione. Norsworthy was born Jeffrey Bryan Norsworthy. (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation)

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is debating whether to appeal a federal judge's order granting a prisoner sexual reassignment surgery.

"We are still considering all options, including an appeal," said Terry Thornton, a spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.


There is no time frame for a decision, she added.

Should the operation occur, it will be the first in state prison history.

On Thursday, a federal judge in San Francisco ordered the state prison system to facilitate gender reassignment for 51-year-old Michelle-Lael Norsworthy. The inmate, who is serving a life sentence for murder in Mule Creek State Prison in Ione, was born Jeffrey Bryan Norsworthy.

Norsworthy has identified as a woman since the 1990s, and, according to the ruling, suffers severe dysphoria, or dissatisfaction with her life, due to her natural-born gender.

The inmate's constitutional rights are being violated because her "serious medical need" is not being met, said U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar in Thursday's ruling.

"The weight of the evidence demonstrates that for Norsworthy, the only adequate medical treatment for her gender dysphoria" is sexual reassignment surgery, Tigar said in his ruling.

The Department of Corrections disagrees.

"After having received continuous and effective medical and mental health treatment for over fifteen years to address her gender dysphoria, Plaintiff Michelle Norsworthy now seeks the extraordinary remedy of a preliminary injunction ordering state doctors to perform immediate sex reassignment surgery," according to a CDCR filing in the case.

"But Norsworthy has not demonstrated a medical necessity for such surgery, much less any sudden or dramatic deterioration in her medical or mental health that might otherwise warrant such an order," it continued.

Norsworthy entered prison in April 1987, according to records. She began identifying as a woman in the 1990s and was diagnosed with dysphoria in January 2000, according to the ruling.

The operation is to take place in the near future, according to the ruling.

"Defendants shall take all of the actions reasonably necessary to provide Norsworthy sex reassignment surgery as promptly as possible," according to the ruling.

Surgical operations do not take place at prisons in California, officials said. All operations, including Norsworthy's should it happen, are done at community hospitals.

Follow Ryan Parker on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram