May 15, 2015
Ensuring access to gender reassignment surgery for prisoners has emerged as a hot topic in the transgender rights movement amid recent developments in court cases filed on behalf of inmates.
On May 4, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court released their decision against hearing a lawsuit for a transgendered inmate who was prescribed a sex-change operation while in prison but later turned down for the surgery by the Massachusetts Department of Corrections. Since then, Michelle Kosilke has made two suicide attempts and self-mutilates.
More than two decades ago, she was found guilty of strangling her spouse after an altercation that was precipitated when her partner discovered Kosilek cross-dressing. The U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals determined that the state did not have to allow the surgery. Since the U.S. Supreme Court has refused to review the case, the appeals court decision will stand.
The executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, Mara Keisling, wants insurance companies to pay for the procedure as medically necessary. If they refuse, she believes that their actions are illegal and discriminatory. Another representative with the LGBT project for the Center for American Progress agrees that the failure to allow gender reassignment to prisoners means the denial of basic rights. The American Medical Association and similar groups have affirmed that gender reassignment surgery is a valid option for gender dysphoria. She expressed her frustration that they did not hear the case.
On the other side of the nation, the California Attorney General sought to stop a gender-reassignment procedure for Michelle-Lael Norsworthy during the appeals process for the case. She was initially denied the procedure by the California prison system, but a U.S. District judge later reversed the decision. Attorneys for both Keisling and Norsworthy claim that their clients are being subject to cruel and unusual punishment. A pro bono attorney with a New York-based law firm echoed their sentiments and believes that transgendered individuals should be allowed to proceed with surgery.
Costs for the procedure, paid for by taxpayers, range from $7,000 to $50,000, depending on the type of surgery. However, the cost of an appeal is significantly higher.
Although the Supreme Court refused to hear this case, the rights of transgendered inmates in prison will likely continue to receive media attention. Our attorney will review your rights to see what options you have.