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In March 2011, inmate Ophelia De'Lonta speaks during an interview at Buckingham Correctional Center in Dillwyn.
file/Steve Helber/ASSOCIATED PRESS
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Date published: 10/25/2012
RICHMOND--Attorneys for a Virginia inmate who has been hospitalized for attempts at self-castration asked a federal appeals panel Wednesday to let a lower court decide her lifelong quest for a sex-change operation.
A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard narrow constitutional arguments in the case of Ophelia De'Lonta. A ruling is typically issued in several weeks or longer.
A U.S. district court judge dismissed De'Lonta's self-filed lawsuit one year ago after he concluded the Virginia Department of Corrections was adequately treating De'Lonta's gender identity disorder, a mental diagnosis in which people believe they were born the wrong sex. De'Lonta has believed "she is a female cruelly trapped in a man's body" since she was a child, her attorneys say.
De'Lonta has said her disorder is so severe that sex-assignment surgery is the only thing that will make her stop mutilating herself.
After the hearing, attorneys Bernadette Armand and Victor M. Glasberg produced a color photograph of their client. She has feminine features and noticeable breasts under a snug-fitting top, the result of hormone treatments.
"The treatment has not been constitutionally adequate," Armand told the three-judge panel. The state's refusal of additional treatment violates the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, the lawyers argued.
De'Lonta's attorneys contend the courts or experts on gender identity disorder--not prison officials--should decide whether surgery is necessary.
"The record reveals that Ms. De'Lonta's distaste for her own body is so severe that while in prison, she has mutilated her genitalia more than 20 times in attempts at self-castration," Glasberg wrote in his appeal to the 4th Circuit. "She engaged in this behavior not because she delights in hurting herself, but because her repulsion is so overwhelming that is uncontrollable."
E. Duncan Getchell Jr., the state's solicitor general, argued the Department of Corrections is properly treating De'Lonta and the lower court dismissal should stand.
De'Lonta has been in prison since 1983, serving a 73-year sentence for bank robbery and other charges. Since 2004, she has been given hormone treatments and psychotherapy. While she is in a men's prison, she is allowed to wear female clothing and she is addressed by prison officials as a woman.
De'Lonta has said, however, the therapy no longer works and she can't control the urge to mutilate her genitals in an attempt at self-castration. Her attorneys point to established treatment guidelines that the surgery, at a cost of approximately $20,000, is needed.