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Ophelia De’lonta hopes the examination will help her legal case to win sex-reassignment surgery.
Thursday, August 29, 2013
Virginia prison officials must grant transsexual inmate Ophelia De’lonta her wish to be examined by a gender specialist at the Buckingham Correctional Center, the all-male prison where she lives.
U.S. District Court Judge James Turk announced his decision Wednesday.
Turk said the exam, which De’lonta’s attorneys pledged she will pay for, is for valid legal discovery to support her ongoing lawsuit aimed at winning sex-reassignment surgery at state expense.
Noting that state prison officials oppose the exam but did not raise any safety concern or practical objection, “the court sees no harm to defendants from allowing this modest request,” Turk said.
Though he didn’t specify a date for the exam, Turk asked for a report of its findings within two months.
De’lonta, 53, is a preoperative transsexual serving a long prison sentence for bank robbery. She wants sex-reassignment surgery to convert from male to female. She contends the procedure is medically necessary treatment for her gender dysphoria, a recognized medical diagnosis involving cross-gender identification.
Not all transsexuals have dysphoria, just those who experience distress and impairment over the difference between their internalized sense of who they are and their birth gender or assigned gender role. The American Psychiatric Association called the condition gender identity disorder until a change in May.
As evidence that her case is severe, De’lonta’s attorneys say she has cut her genitals multiple times and so far destroyed one testicle.
Prison officials have declined to provide the sex-reassignment surgery or an examination to see if De’lonta qualifies. That said, state officials say they have provided multiple treatments to De’lonta. They contend she isn’t ready for sex-reassignment or even a suitability exam because she suffers from borderline personality disorder and isn’t participating sufficiently in treatment for that.
The expert supporting De’lonta’s lawsuit is George Brown, a professor of psychiatry at the East Tennessee State University Quillen College of Medicine, according to court papers. A specialist who sits on the board of the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, he said he has evaluated or treated more than 500 patients with gender dysphoria, including eight who were incarcerated.
Brown said in a court filing that Virginia prison officials’ protocol for inmates with gender dysphoria is “grossly clinically inappropriate” and at least 10 years out of date, and it impermissibly rules out sex-reassignment surgery for inmates. Prison staff assigned to treat De’lonta aren’t qualified in gender dysphoria, Brown said.
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