Ruling soon on inmate’s sex-change request

ROANOKE, Va. — A transsexual Virginia prison inmate should find out soon whether she will be evaluated for sex-change surgery.

U.S. District Court Judge James C. Turk in Roanoke told lawyers for Ophelia De’Lonta on Monday that he would rule promptly.

Born Michael A. Stokes, De’Lonta has been in prison for 30 years serving a 73-year sentence for bank robbery.

De’Lonta has been diagnosed with a severe form of a rare, medically recognized illness known as gender identity disorder. Her desire for a sex-reassignment surgery has prompted her several times to attempt to castrate herself.

During a Monday hearing, De’Lonta’s lawyer said it was medically necessary that she be evaluated for her suitability for the procedure because of the repeated castration attempts.

De’Lonta’s suit claims that denying her sex-assignment surgery is a violation of her Eighth Amendment right against cruel and unusual punishment.

De’Lonta’s attorneys have said the surgery could be done at a cost to the state of about $20,000.

Similar lawsuits have failed in a handful of other states. Lawmakers in some states have tried to ban the use of taxpayer money for the operations.

The Roanoke Times reported that a lawyer for the prison said the state contests the suggestion that it has not provided medically necessary care. The state claims it has extensively addressed De’Lonta’s medical needs, including providing her with psychological counseling and hormone treatments and she has been allowed to dress as a woman in a men’s prison.

Turk said Monday he’d grant De’Lonta’s request to allow her to be examined by a gender identity specialist lined up by her attorneys at her expense.

But Turk did not say how he will rule on her request for the state pay for a readiness exam for a surgical sex change.

Turk pondered what would happen if the experts don’t think she’s ready for surgery, whether the decision would be left up to him.

“We’re going down a slippery slope here,” he said.

Turk had previously dismissed De’Lonta’s self-filed lawsuit in 2011 after he concluded the Virginia Department of Corrections was adequately treating De’Lonta’s gender identity disorder.

But a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in January sent her case back to the lower court, concluding that her constitutional claim should be heard.

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