State prison system to appeal order for inmate's sexual reassignment

California prison system plans to appeal judge's order that an inmate be allowed gender reassignment surgery

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation plans to appeal a federal judge’s order that an inmate be allowed to undergo gender reassignment surgery, according to documents filed Friday.

In addition, the prison system has requested a stay. If granted, the operation could not occur until after a ruling from the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Last week, U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar in San Francisco ruled that Michelle-Lael Norsworthy's constitutional rights would be violated if the 51-year-old who was born a man was not allowed to have gender reassignment surgery. Norsworthy is housed at Mule Creek State Prison in Ione.

Tigar called the operation a “serious medical need” because the inmate suffers severe dysphoria, or dissatisfaction with her life because she's a woman living in a man's body, according to the ruling. The operation is to happen “as promptly as possible,” Tigar said in the ruling. 

Norsworthy, born Jeffrey Bryan Norsworthy, was convicted of second-degree murder and is serving a life sentence with the possibility of parole, said Terry Thornton, a corrections department spokeswoman.

The corrections agency says the operation -- which would be the first in state prison history -- is unnecessary.

“Norsworthy has been treated for gender dysphoria for over 20 years, and there is no indication that her condition has somehow worsened to the point where she must obtain sex-reassignment surgery now rather than waiting until this case produces a final judgment on the merits,” according to the request for a stay filed by the CDCR.

Tigar’s ruling “effectively” leaves prison healthcare to inmates’ personal preference, according to the request for a stay.

“There is no evidence that Norsworthy is in serious, immediate physical or emotional danger,” according to the stay request. “Norsworthy has been receiving hormone therapy for her gender dysphoria since 2000 and continues to receive hormone therapy and other forms of treatment.”

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.

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.

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