No sex changes for Michigan prisoners?

Bill introduced to outlaw using taxpayer dollars for sex change operations for incarcerated citizens

By Tara Cavanaugh

LANSING- A Republican state representative introduced a bill yesterday called the "Moral Values Bill" that would ensure no public funds could be used to pay for sex change operations for Michigan prisoners.

Rep. Tom Hooker, D-77, told the Grand Rapids Press: "It's something that's kind of a common sense thing. I'd much rather be proactive than reactive. It's definitely something we want to prevent."

Hooker does not know of any prisoner who has requested a sex change operation. According to a press relase from his office, he introduced the bill in response to an appeal by the American Family Association, a Midland-based anti-gay group headed by Gary Glenn. Glenn recently announced he is running as a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate.

Russ Marlan, a public information officer for the Michigan Department of Corrections, said the bill came as a surprise to MDOC "because we hadn't necessarily thought of it as a problem."

Marlan said that all states are required to provide health care to prisoners under the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution. "We assess inmates' health care throughout the system and make decisions on care and what's medically necessary and what's appropriate," Marlan said.

Marlan consulted with the chief medical officer who said that MDOC would not provide sex change operations.

But, Marlan added, "if there ever was a circumstance where somebody had a medical need for such a thing, it's certainly possible and allowable under our health care contract right now."

Marlan said the chief medical officer knows of a transgender inmate who self-injected silicone into his breasts. The silicone is now leaking into his organs and blood. "There's a health risk there with what's happening to him so we're certainly going to provide treatment for that," Marlan said. The silicone will be removed from the inmate's body. The inmate asked for silicone breast implants as a replacement, but the chief medical officer said the inmate will receive a prosthesis to wear instead.

"We provide medically necessary care and we want to keep prisoners healthy," Marlan said. "It's good for them, it's good for their families ... when 95 percent of them return to society we want to have them healthy. That helps control our long-term costs as well."

Jay Kaplan, the staff attorney for the ACLU of Michigan's LGBT Project, said the bill - House Bill 4889 - doesn't only deny sex reassignment surgery in prisons but also through other public assistance programs.

"I'm not aware of people who are on public assistance who have ever gotten sexual reassignment surgery paid for by the state," Kaplan said.

"I do know in Michigan Medicaid policy the state says it will not pay for drugs related to gender identity conditions, which we think is the wrong policy too because it ignores things that are medically necessary."

Kaplan referred to two other cases that possibly stirred the AFA and Rep. Hooker to attack sex reassignment surgery. On Aug. 5 a federal appeals court upheld a ruling striking down a Wisconsin law banning publicly-funded hormone therapy for transgender prisoners. The court said that denying medical treatment amounts to torture. And an inmate in New York has sued the state, claiming it should pay for sex reassignment surgery.

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