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Inmate loses bid for taxpayer-paid sex-change operation

Lyralisa Stevens, who was born male but lives as a female, had asked the state to pay for the removal of her male genitalia.

September 22, 2011|By Jack Dolan, Los Angeles Times
  • Lyralisa Stevens said in a court filing that she feels under constant threat of sexual assault in a men's prison.
Lyralisa Stevens said in a court filing that she feels under constant threat… (Department of Corrections )

A transgender California inmate has lost a legal bid for a sex-change operation at taxpayer expense.

Lyralisa Stevens, who was born male but lives as a female, is serving 50 years to life for killing a San Bernardino County woman with a shotgun in a dispute over clothes. On Wednesday, the 1st District Court of Appeal in San Francisco denied the 42-year-old prisoner's surgery request, ending — at least for now — her two-year legal battle to force the state to pay for removal of her male genitalia.

Her attorney is considering whether to appeal to the state Supreme Court.

Had Stevens prevailed, California would have been the first state in the U.S. required to provide sexual reassignment surgery for an inmate diagnosed with gender identity disorder. The operation typically costs $15,000 to $50,000, depending on the complexity of the procedure.

Like many other states, California provides hormones to transgender inmates who were receiving such therapy before their incarceration. Hormone treatments generally cost about $1,000 a year per recipient.

Stevens had argued that hormone therapy is no longer adequate to combat the emotional distress caused by her disorder, making surgery the medically necessary next step. She also wanted her penis and testicles removed so corrections authorities, who decide prison placement according to an inmate's genitalia, would be compelled to transfer her to the relative safety of a women's lockup.

Stevens, who has a slight build and silicone injections to feminize her physique, said in a court filing that she feels under constant threat of sexual assault in a men's prison.

Alison Hardy, Stevens' attorney, acknowledged that a victory in her client's case was always a long shot but said the court's decision still came as a disappointment.

"Fifteen years ago, hormones weren't prescribed in California prisons, either," Hardy said. "We were hoping to…establish a beachhead."

Hardy said Stevens spends most of her time alone in her cell at the California Medical Facility in Vacaville. "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."

The court on Wednesday said Stevens was reasonably safe in a men's prison as long as she is housed in a single cell but promised to hear her petition again if her living arrangement changes or her "safety is otherwise compromised."

jack.dolan@latimes.com

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