Michelle Kosilek, a Massachusetts inmate serving a life sentence for murder, was Robert Kosilek when he was convicted in the killing of his wife, the Associated Press reports. In 1993, while in prison, he changed his name to Michelle. Since then, Kosilek has been fighting for the state to pay for sex-change surgery, which can cost from $10,000 to $20,000. A decision is pending in federal court. The case, which has become fodder for radio talk shows, is being watched by advocates who say Kosilek is an example of the poor treatment transgender inmates receive in prison.
Courts in other states have ordered prison systems to allow transgender inmates to receive psychotherapy and, in some cases, hormone shots. No inmate has succeeded in getting a court to order a sex-change operation, say advocates. “If people are not treated, they suffer tremendously,” said Shannon Minter of the Transgender Law and Policy Institute. “It’s just as cruel to withhold treatment for gender-identity disorder as it is to withhold treatment for any other medical issue.” In Massachusetts, four of the 12 inmates diagnosed with gender-identity disorder get hormone shots, including Kosilek. Officials allowed Kosilek to receive laser hair removal, female undergarments and some makeup.