Out gay Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) said today that he agrees with a decision by Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D) last week to appeal a federal court's September ruling that the state must pay for sex-reassignment surgery for a transgender prison inmate.
The U.S. District Court ruled that Michelle Kosilek, who is serving a life sentence without parole in a prison for males after strangling her wife to death in 1990, is entitled to the surgery under the Eighth Amendment protecting her from cruel and unusual punishment.
Speaking to Metro Weekly, Frank said the issue was not about Kosilek being transgender, but that she is a convicted murderer.
"I think it should be clear she has a right to present herself as a woman, and that should be honored by the prison system," Frank said, but he added that asking taxpayers to foot the bill for her surgery was a mistake. "There are other medical procedures that are denied to convicted murderers," Frank said.
Patrick's decision to appeal the landmark ruling has faced criticism from LGBT advocates who credit misunderstanding about gender identity for opposition to the ruling.
In a statement released Sept. 26, Jennifer Levi, Transgender Rights Project director for Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, said there was no legal ground for the appeal.
"Constitutional rights belong to everyone, even the least loved, least popular people among us," Levi said. "Prisoners have a right to necessary medical care, and this is indisputably medical care, as the very strong district court decision established."
But Frank disagrees, stating, "They're making a mistake if they think it's a general trans issue."
According to Frank, Kosilek should seek other means to pay for the surgery rather than taxpayer dollars.
Frank is the latest Massachusetts politician to criticize the Sept. 4 ruling by U.S. District Court Chief Judge Mark Wolf, who ruled it was the "constitutional duty" of the Department of Corrections to grant Kosilek the surgery.
In the high-profile Senate race between Republican Sen. Scott Brown and his opponent Elizabeth Warren, who hopes to reclaim the Senate seat once occupied by Ted Kennedy for the Democrats, both candidates rebuked the district court's ruling.
"I have to say, I don't think it's a good use of taxpayer dollars," Warren told a Boston radio station, agreeing with Brown, who called the ruling "an outrageous abuse of taxpayer dollars." Brown also argued that the ruling should be overturned.
[Photo: Barney Frank (Courtesy of the U.S. House of Representatives).]