STERLING COLO, MAR 02, 2006-- Phillip 'Sabrina' Trujillo a inmate at Sterling Correctional Facility talks about being transgender behind bars, Thursday Mar. 2, 2006. RJ Sangosti/ The Denver Post

Source: RJ Sangosti / Getty

There have been many progressive gains for trans folks in prison over the past couple of years, including receiving gender confirmation surgery, access for hormones, and access to prisons that align with their gender identity—but there are some in politics that are trying to make that progress disappear.

In November, Michigan state legislator Beau LeFave introduced a bill that would make incarcerated people pay for the full cost of any transition-related surgery. The proposed legislation also called for prisoners to pay for medical care related to acts of self-harm.

“When I found out that taxpayers could be on the hook for [GCS] procedures I had the bill drafted and introduced,” he told INTO in an email. “I have nothing but respect for all individuals regardless of their particular life choices or personal feelings. That being said, I do not believe the taxpayers of the State of Michigan should pay for felons to get free gender reassignment surgery while in prison. Law abiding citizens do not get free gender reassignment surgeries. Why should felons at the taxpayers’ expense?”

In response to LeFave’s comment, Shawn Meerkamper, a staff attorney with the Transgender Law Center said that there’s now a broad consensus among medical professionals that gender confirmation surgery is a medically necessary treatment for some transgender people. He said that HB 6524 is “pretty clearly an attempt to find a loophole” to the growing legal consensus that GCS is necessary.

“You cannot ‘respect’ someone while writing legislation to deny them life-saving health care,” said Meerkamper.

HB 6524 wasn’t passed into the committee during the 2018 legislative session and it doesn’t stand much chance of making any progress in 2019, but it’s still important that we recognize why it’s significant. Republican legislators seemingly refuse to let go of the fact that the legal and medical perspective on transgender lives is changing. GCS isn’t a choice—it’s a necessity for trans folks to live full, whole, healthy lives, whether they’re incarcerated or not. It must be treated as a medically necessary procedure, just like any other major or minor surgery.

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