In this March 9, 2011 photo Ophelia De'lonta speaks during an interview at the Buckingham Correctional Center in Dillwyn, Va. De'lonta has filed a lawsuit against Virginia Prison officials seeking a sex change operation. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
A federal judge is hearing the case of a Virginia inmate seeking a state-paid sex-change operation.
U.S. District Court Judge James C. Turk in Roanoke is scheduled on Monday to hear the case of Ophelia De'Lonta, who contends that the denial of her sex-change operation amounts to a violation of her Eighth Amendment freedom from cruel and unusual punishment. Born Michael A. Stokes, De'Lonta has been in prison for 30 years serving a 73-year sentence for bank robbery.
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.
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.
Corrections officials have provided her with psychological counseling and hormone treatments and she has been allowed to dress as a woman in a men's prison. Those actions, however, have not dissuaded her from her desire for a sex change, and she was hospitalized in 2010 for injuries suffered in a self-castration attempt.
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.
De'Lonta's attorneys are asking the court to order that the state pay for a readiness exam for a surgical sex change and allow for a related exam at De'lonta's expense for purposes of the lawsuit.
In court filings, the state asked the court to deny De'lonta's preliminary injunction for the readiness exam, saying she's not prepared for such an evaluation. The state claims De'lonta has refused to meaningfully participate in individual therapy and, on one occasion, removed her hormone patch in an effort to manipulate her treatment.