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Calif. Court Nixes Surgery for Transgender Inmate

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A transgender inmate who has lived as a woman since 1993 is not entitled to state-funded sex reassignment surgery or to be transferred to a women's prison, a California appeals court ruled Wednesday.

The First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco did not explain in a brief order dismissing Lyralisa Stevens' lawsuit why it concluded she does not have to be given a gender change operation while serving 50-years to life for murder at the all-male California Medical Facility in Vacaville.

But the court said Stevens does not need to be moved to a women's prison because Vacaville officials were protecting her adequately by assigning her to a single cell apart from male inmates. If her housing arrangements are changed or her personal safety is "otherwise compromised," Stevens can petition for additional relief then, the court said.

Prison Law Office attorney Alison Hardy, a court-appointed lawyer who represents Stevens, said she was extremely disappointed in the decision, but does not know yet if she will appeal to the California Supreme Court. A solo cell does not address Stevens' medical diagnosis of gender identity disorder or her overall health needs since she does not go outside or interact with others because of threats and harassment, Hardy said.

"It is difficult to understand how this state can defend allowing a person who in every respect presents to the world as a female to be placed in a situation where she is constantly in danger," she said.

Although California and other western states are required to provide transgender inmates with hormone therapy pursuant to a 2000 federal court decision, a ruling in Stevens' favor would have made California the first state required to provide medically eligible inmates with sex reassignment surgery. Inmates are typically assigned to men's or women's prisons based on whether they have had genital surgery.

Stevens has been imprisoned since 2003, 10 years after she started taking hormones, nine years after she legally changed her name to Lyralisa and three months after she shot a female friend to death in a San Bernardino hotel room following a dispute over a clothing bill. When she started serving her sentence, she had already undergone breast and hip augmentation, had other procedures to feminize her appearance and requested castration while in prison, according to court filing in her case.

"If I had a choice of getting the sex change and staying in the hole for the rest of my life or not getting the change, I'd rather have the operation. Then I would feel whole." Stevens told a prison therapist soon after her 2003 confinement.

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