50-year-old Ophelia De’lonta underwent emergency surgery resulting in 17 stitches to reattach her penis after a denial from the Virginia Department of Corrections in response to her request for sexual reassignment surgery led her to use three disposable razors to do the job herself.
If you think De’lonta’s story sounds unbelievable, consider this: 12 other inmates in Idaho, Wisconsin, Massachusetts, New York, Virginia, Oregon, Kentucky and North Carolina have suffered nearly identical experiences. In many states, transgender inmates have won access to hormonal therapy through lawsuits, but surgeries reassigning one’s genitals to their gender identity remain elusive.
Months after the October castration attempt, De’lonta filed a federal lawsuit Friday claiming the state has failed its duty to provide adequate medical care because it won’t give her the operation. She says the surgery is needed to treat her gender identity disorder, a mental illness in which people believe they were born the wrong gender.
If she wins, De’lonta would be the nation’s first inmate to receive a state-funded sex change operation. Similar lawsuits have failed in a handful of other states, and lawmakers in some states are trying to ban the use of taxpayer money for the operations.
If she loses, she says she will continue to try self-surgery — acknowledging another attempt could kill her.
“That’s a possibility,” the 50-year-old said during a recent prison interview, pausing then smiling contently. “But at the end I would have peace.
27,000 Americans have gender identity disorder, resulting in 500-750 sexual reassignment surgeries each year. For every person with access to these oftentimes life-saving treatments, many are forced to go without.
Sexual reassignment surgeries are still widely viewed as expensive vanity projects for the least vocal letter in the LGBT community, and not seen as the absolute medical necessity that they are. Nobody chops off their own penis in the face of potential death on a whim. De’lonta, like thousands of others, was driven to action because she suffers from an unmet medical need.
“Everybody has the right to have their health care needs met, whether they are in prison or out on the streets. People in the prisons who have bad hearts, hips or knees have surgery to repair those things,” Michelle Kosilek told The Associated Press in a recent phone interview from a state prison in Norfolk, Mass.
“My medical needs are no less important or more important than the person in the cell next to me.”
Federal courts have said prisons must provide adequate medical care, and that they must protect inmates from themselves. But correctional officials and lawmakers balk at using taxpayer money for sex-change operations that can cost up to $20,000.
A Massachusetts bill to ban the use of public funds for sex change procedures, hormones and other treatments has been before a joint committee since January. Wisconsin lawmakers passed the Inmate Sex Change Prevention Act in 2006, but a federal judge declared it unconstitutional last year. The state appealed, and a decision is expected soon.
De’lonta’s self-castration attempt took three hours and was brought on after a guard referred to her as a man, despite a court order requiring officers to address her as a woman. The entire story is incredibly interesting, and well worth a read in its entirety. You can finish Ophelia De’lonta’s story at SFGate HERE.
Do you think prisoners should have access to sexual reassignment surgery?