The first government-funded gender reassignment surgery for a prison inmate in the U.S. has been cited as evidence of the need to address gender identity struggles in prison ministry.
Shiloh Quine, a convicted murderer serving a life sentence without parole, is recovering from male-to-female gender reassignment surgery funded by the state of California, The Washington Post reported Jan. 10.
Quine’s surgical gender transition followed the 2015 settlement of a lawsuit he filed seeking the procedure. He has identified as female for decades, according to the Associated Press, and has a history of depression and attempted suicide. He was charged with robbery, kidnapping and murder in 1980.
Of 64 requests for gender reassignment surgery in the California prison system, four have been approved, 13 await a decision and 51 have been denied, the Post reported. There are a total of 475 inmates in California prisons that identify as transgender.
Ben Phillips, director of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s extension center in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s Darrington Unit, said some inmates’ desire for gender transition reflects a “gut level” perception “that there is something seriously wrong with how they have been living their lives.”
“Many prisoners know that there needs to be a major change, and actually want to make it,” Phillips told Baptist Press (BP) in written comments. “Some may even genuinely become convinced that the problem lies in their gender and [believe] if that were changed, then their behavior would be changed as well.”
Yet “as involved as gender reassignment surgery is, it is actually ‘easier’ than addressing the real problem,” Phillips said. “Major transformation is certainly needed, but it is transformation of the heart, not gender. Only the gospel of Jesus Christ can change a prisoner’s heart. Anything else runs the risk of merely exchanging one set of problems for another.”
In Quine’s case, California agreed on transfer to a women’s facility following surgery. The state plans to comply with a court order to allow clothes and other items consistent with inmates’ perceived gender identities, like scarves and necklaces for men, AP reported.
The transfer to a women’s facility in particular is alarming to Phillips.
“I am certain prison systems will be concerned about … the danger of prisoners seeking gender reassignment surgery or claiming to be transgender in order to have ‘inappropriate physical contact’ with other prisoners,” Phillips said. “The Prison Rape Elimination Act, first passed in Texas under then-Gov. George W. Bush, and later at the federal level under President [Bush], deals with the fact that sexual contact in prison always or almost always has a coercive or manipulative component.”
Another concern is that inmates may be able to “drastically change their appearance” through gender transition in an effort to avoid detection following escape attempts, Phillips said.
New Orleans pastor David Crosby, who has ministered to Texas death row inmates, agreed that allowing prisoners to have gender reassignment surgery not only poses security problems but also financial issues.
Gender reassignment surgery “should be considered elective and therefore not covered by taxpayers,” Crosby told BP in written comments. “It generally is supported by hormonal therapy and often hair removal, which is definitely cosmetic and ongoing.”
Crosby noted, “prisoners are required to live celibate lives. This surgery suggests behaviors which breach that protocol and would threaten security, which is job one in prisons.”
The cost of gender reassignment surgery could reach $100,000 per case, including accompanying treatments needed before and after surgery, according to California Correctional Health Services.
A Massachusetts court ruled in 2012 that a convicted murderer must receive state-funded gender reassignment surgery, but the ruling was overturned on appeal, according to media reports.
A convicted murderer in California was released on parole last year after a federal judge ordered the state prison system to provide gender reassignment surgery. The inmate said he was going to proceed with the surgery on his own once out of prison.
A 2015 Southern Baptist Convention resolution “on transgender identity” affirmed “that gender identity is determined by biological sex and not by one’s self-perception.”
The resolution “extend[ed] love and compassion to those” experiencing “a distressing conflict between their biological sex and their gender identity.” The statement “invite[d] all transgender persons to trust Christ and to experience renewal in the gospel.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)