Yesterday, Lyralisa Stevens, a transgender prisoner in California, lost her bid to compel the state to pay for her to have sex-change operation. Stevens, a 42-year-old who was born a male but identifies as female, is currently serving a sentence of 50 years to life for killing a woman with a shotgun.
Stevens has been undergoing hormone therapy at the expense of the state since entering prison, but according to the Los Angeles Times, she argues, "hormone therapy is no longer adequate to combat the emotional distress caused by her disorder, making surgery the medically necessary next step."
The most pressing problem appears to be that she is housed in a men's facility, even though she lives as a woman and has a decidedly feminine appearance, because prison placement is determined exclusively by an inmate's genitalia. This sounds like a recipe for disaster, and, indeed, Stevens claims this circumstance has put her in constant danger of being sexually assaulted.
Her attorney, Alison Hardy, describes a pretty miserable day-to-day existence (granted, she's a convict in a prison, but still), saying Stevens spends most of her time alone:
"She has not been outside in over a year because she is not safe out on the yard…and she has to be very careful about when she showers."
Despite these problematic living arrangements, she cannot be transferred to a women's facility-where one assumes she would be at less risk for assault, but then again maybe not-unless she is able to have the surgery to remove her male genitalia.
Never before has California, or any other state for that matter, been required to foot the bill for this kind of operation (which can cost up to $50,000), and Stevens' attorney admits that victory in this case was unlikely. However, as she points out, "Fifteen years ago, hormones weren't prescribed in California prisons, either." Can't blame them for trying to make some progress.
For the time being, though, the court has ruled that taxpayers will not be paying for the surgery since they've determined that Stevens is "reasonably safe in a men's prison as long as she is housed in a single cell." They have promised to revisit the issue if something changes and her safety is further compromised. In the meantime, her lawyer is considering appealing to the state Supreme Court.