Prisoner Granted Sex Reassignment Is Still Waiting

Michelle-Lael Norsworthy paved the way for other transgender inmates, but was released before surgery
By Elizabeth Armstrong Moore,  Newser Staff
Posted May 18, 2016 2:49 PM CDT
Prisoner Granted Sex Reassignment Is Still Waiting
In this March 2016 photo, Michelle-Lael Norsworthy poses in San Francisco. Norsworthy, a transgender inmate who was paroled after a judge ordered California to pay for her sex reassignment surgery, is making plans to have the surgery on her own this summer.   (/San Francisco Chronicle via AP)

Michelle-Lael Norsworthy, who is 51, murdered a man with a shotgun outside a bar in Orange County in 1987 and spent nearly 30 years in prison for it. But she wasn't Michelle-Lael Norsworthy at the time—she was born Jeffrey, and she says that being "overly male" and carrying guns was the result of having "spent my whole life denying who I was," reports SFist. It wasn't until she befriended a priest in prison who told her to look up the word "transsexual" that she says she discovered she was transgendered, and she spent the next several years gradually transitioning to the woman she is today, reports the California Sunday Magazine in a lengthy feature article. But she says her hormone-replacement therapy proved insufficient, and she would go on to win a lawsuit granting her the right to sex reassignment surgery behind bars.

Norsworthy may have paved the way for transgender rights in prisons, but she still hasn't gotten the surgery because, mere weeks after a federal judge ordered the prison to give her the operation immediately, she was granted a parole hearing and told she had finished serving her time. (She'd been sentenced to 17 years to life.) That very day the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation filed paperwork to drop the judge's order now that she was leaving prison. And she isn't alone: In 2011, transgender woman Ophelia De’lonta, who had served 30 years of a 73-year sentence for robbery in a Virginia prison and who attempted self castration several times, was released before a decision was made to provide hormone treatments. Ashley Diamond, a trans woman in a Georgia prison, was suddenly released three years into her 12-year sentence for burglary after her case asking for hormone-replacement therapy drew the attention of Elton John, the Obama administration, and others. Meanwhile, Norsworthy hopes to have her surgery, which will be covered by Medicaid, this summer. A surgeon has already called to walk her through it. (See why the judge ruled in her favor.)

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