Michelle Norsworthy

Michelle Norsworthy

April 2, 2015 — Transgender Law Center, along with pro-bono co-counsel from the law firm of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP, today won a historic preliminary injunction ordering the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to provide adequate medical care, including gender-affirming surgery, to Michelle-Lael Norsworthy, a transgender woman being held in a men’s prison.

“No one should be denied the medical care they need,” said Kris Hayashi, Executive Director of Transgender Law Center. “There is a clear medical consensus that health care related to gender transition is necessary—and life-saving—for many people. This decision confirms that it’s unlawful to deny essential treatment to transgender people. With this historic decision, Michelle will now be able to get the medical care she desperately needs.”

The prison had denied Michelle gender-affirming surgery, even though her treating psychologist had repeatedly concluded that it was medically necessary to treat her gender dysphoria. The judge found that prison administrators “chose to ignore the clear recommendations of her mental health provider” and “[i]nstead of following his recommendations, they removed her from his care.” (p.31)

The judge concluded that the prison appeared to have made its decision to deny her medical care not based on any individualized assessment but instead based on “a blanket policy barring SRS [sex reassignment surgery] as a treatment for transgender inmates.” (p.32) The court held that this policy, and the denial of care to Michelle, violated her rights to adequate medical care under the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Michelle testified that she was suffering excruciating psychological and emotional pain due to her untreated gender dsyphoria. The judge concluded that this ongoing serious injury—not outweighed by any credible medical or security concerns—required a preliminary injunction to remedy. The judge specifically rejected CDCR’s argument that the length of time Michelle has been suffering from this harm meant that it could not be urgent: “The continuation of . . . suffering constitutes irreparable injury, whether this is the first month she has suffered it or the hundredth.” (p.35-36) He therefore ordered CDCR to provide Michelle “adequate medical care, including sex reassignment surgery . . . . as promptly as possible.” (p.38)

“The court absolutely got it right,” said Ilona Turner, Transgender Law Center Legal Director. “Michelle has been suffering for years because of the prison system’s unconstitutional policy against providing transgender inmates the medical care they need. This is a tremendous victory for her and for all transgender people incarcerated in California.”

Nine states, including California, already require private insurers to cover medical care related to gender transition, and public insurance programs like Medicare and California’s Medicaid system also cover this type of care.

The decision was issued by Judge Jon S. Tigar of the Federal District Court for the Northern District of California. The case is Norsworthy v. Beard, Case No. 3:14-cv-00695-JST (N.D. Cal. 2015). The motion was argued by Herman Hoying and Megan Lin of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP.

For more information, please contact Jill Marcellus at jill@transgenderlawcenter.org or 415.865.0176 ext. 310.

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Transgender Law Center works to change law, policy, and attitudes so that all people can live safely, authentically, and free from discrimination regardless of their gender identity or expression. www.TransgenderLawCenter.org

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Transgender Law Center (TLC) is the largest national trans-led organization advocating self-determination for all people. Grounded in legal expertise and committed to racial justice, TLC employs a variety of community-driven strategies to keep transgender and gender nonconforming people alive, thriving, and fighting for liberation.

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