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Should California Pay for Convicted Murderer's Sex-Change?

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Jack Dolan of the Los Angeles Times reports:

Lyralisa Stevens, who was born male but lives as a female, is serving 50 years to life in a California prison for killing a San Bernardino County woman with a shotgun in a dispute over clothes.

Prison officials have provided female hormones for Stevens since her incarceration in 2003. But now she is asking the 1st District Court of Appeal in San Francisco to require the state to pay for a sex-change operation.

Stevens, 42, and her expert witnesses say that surgery is medically necessary, and that removal of her penis and testicles and transfer to a women's prison are the best way to protect her from rape and abuse by male inmates.

The most interesting part of this story isn't that Mr./Ms. Stevens is suing for a free sex-change (though she looks more like a woman than some women, California law requires prison officials to house inmates in male or female institutions based on their genitals.)

Digging in a bit further, there are some fascinating nuggets of information about living an alternative lifestyle behind bars.

1. Prison officials have provided female hormones for Stevens since her incarceration in 2003.

According to the Times, "The state provides hormone therapy today because a federal court found in a 1999 case that failing to continue treatment for inmates who were on hormones before coming to prison amounted to cruel and unusual punishment."

2. A study by UC Irvine sociologists found that "59% of transgender inmates said they had been raped or otherwise sexually assaulted behind bars, compared with 4.4% of the general prison population," according to lead researcher Valerie Jenness.

Still, the Times says "59% of transgender inmates said they did not want to move to a women's institution."


"The advantages of being in a men's prison include the pursuit of sex and the possibility of securing a male partner," Jenness told the paper. "Concern about safety is not a main factor in predicting [housing] preferences."

3. Lasting relationships seem to be within reach for a segment of California's 300-odd inmates diagnosed with Gender Identity Disorder

"I stayed single for an entire year when I got here," 52 year-old Thomas "Lisa" Strawn, serving a life sentence after a third-strike conviction for burglary, told the Times. "But now I got with somebody and I've been with him now two years."
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