Many of you will recall the plight of trans prisoner Michelle-Lael Norsworthy, who last year became the second trans inmate to be granted state-funded sex reassignment surgery only to be paroled shortly thereafter. Now out of jail, Norsworthy has relocated to San Francisco, where she was placed in a halfway house for recovering female addicts as she tells the Chronicle, it was the only place that would take her she's actually been sober for 20 years. And adjusting to civilian life continues to be strange and scary, especially because in addition to being a 52-year-old trans woman who's never lived among women before (she's spent most of her adult life, the last 30 years, in a men's prison), she's also a convicted felon who's likely to find difficulty finding a job or housing given that fact.
She, will however, finally get the surgery she's desired for decades, with the help of Medi-Cal this summer.
Norsworthy made headlines in April 2015 after a federal judge ruled that she had a right to state-funded surgery, as it was medically necessary. At the time, CA Attorney General Kamala Harris argued against the ruling, on behalf of the corrections department, which had long maintained that hormone therapy was sufficient. Within a month, Norsworthy was deemed eligible for parole after appearing before the parole board six times, and she was released in August 2015.
Norsworthy was convicted at age 21 of second-degree murder following the 1985 shooting death of Franklin Gordon Liefer, Jr. in Fullerton, CA. Despite some terrible treatment by fellow male inmates she was gang-raped, for instance, in 2009 Norsworthy remained in the Mule Creek State Prison, a men's facility near Ione.
She tells the Chron that the murder "haunts me to this day," and that her behavior at the time, being "overly male" and carrying guns was due to the fact that "I had spent my whole life denying who I was."
She began identifying as female only a few years into her sentence, in the mid-1990s, and was diagnosed as a transgender woman in 2000 by prison doctors. It would be another 15 years before a judge would allow that gender reassignment surgery was medically necessary, but now she will get to have it as a civilian instead of as a prisoner.
Following the ruling in Norsworthy's case, the California Department of Corrections established some official guidelines for treating transgender prisoners and determining when surgery is necessary, becoming the first state in the country to do so.
Currently, there are 375 males and 26 females in the state prison system receiving hormone therapy and are considered transgender. Until they have surgery, they are housed in prisons based on their birth gender, with many in special protective housing.
Norsworthy tells the Chron she's happy for her legacy already, saying she'll go to her grave knowing "that girls I left behind [in prison] will now have an opportunity to receive the same health care as people out here."