Constitutional Law

Transgender Inmate Asks Appellate Court to Require Calif. to Pay for Sex-Change Operation

An appellate court is poised potentially to make California the first state in the nation to require prisons to provide sex-change surgery for at least some inmates who seek the operation.

The issue is complex, as a Los Angeles Times article explains. While some transgender inmates who consider themselves female dress as women and even take hormones would wish to have the surgery, many others would opt to, as one puts it, “keep what I got.”

One of those who wants the surgery is Lyralisa Stevens, 42, who is asking the District Court of Appeal in San Francisco to order the state prison system to pay for it. Although Gender Identity Disorder is a recognized psychiatric condition and California will pay for hormone treatment, as it does for Stevens, the state draws the line at surgery.

A receiver for the state’s troubled prison system argues that California is required to pay only for minimally necessary medical care, not sex-change operations costing up to $50,000.

Stevens’ slight build and female characteristics make her a target for rape by other inmates, she tells the newspaper, and she cannot be transferred to a women’s prison, under the state’s rules, unless she has the sex-change surgery.

However, with or without surgery, other transgender inmates who were born male but consider themselves female are not necessarily unhappy at being housed in a men’s prison, where opportunities for consensual sex with men abound, the article notes.

“I stayed single for an entire year when I got here,” 52-year-old Lisa Strawn (formerly known as Thomas) tells the Times. “But now I got with somebody and I’ve been with him now two years.”

He is conveniently housed in a nearby cell, she notes, and she hence would not want to move.

Related coverage: “Federal Judge Strikes State-Law Ban on Hormone Treatment for Transgendered Inmates”

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