Media Nearly Ignore Controversy Over Murderer’s State-Funded Sex Change

In January, Shiloh Quine, a convicted killer serving a life sentence in California, was the first transgender inmate to ever receive a state-funded sex change surgery. Yet, based on media coverage of the operation, Americans would hardly know the issue was controversial.

In the 2015 case Quine v. Beard, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation settled, agreeing to fund a sex change operation and transfer the inmate to a women’s prison. As the Huffington Post’s Mary Papenfuss noted, the state is constitutionally mandated to provide “medically necessary” treatment for inmates’ medical and mental ailments, which include gender dysphoria.

Prior to the approved operation, Quine attempted genital mutilation and suicide, and told a psychologist that surgery would bring “drastic, internal completeness,” CBS reported. Yet acclaimed Johns Hopkins psychiatry professor and former Psychiatrist-in-Chief Dr. Paul R. McHugh has seen little psychological change in post-operative transgender patients like Quine.

Many issues specific to the transgender community, such as gender-identity aligned bathroom usage and personal IDs, are hotly contested, but state-funding a murderer’s sex change operation takes the controversy to a whole new level. Even still, media coverage of Quine’s surgery barely noted any of these debates.

The Washington Post’s Kristine Guerra quoted multiple transgender advocates praising the new LGBT milestone. Kris Hayashi, executive director for the Transgender Law Center, commented that the “landmark settlement” and surgery was a “victory not only for Shiloh and transgender people in prison, but for all transgender people who have ever been denied the medical care we need.”

While Guerra declined to quote professionals who opposed California’s ruling and the subsequent surgery, L.A. Times reporter Paige St. John noted that the decision was not roundly supported. She quoted Kent Scheidegger, the legal director of the conservative Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, who weighed in: "The idea that the 8th Amendment requires something for prisoners not available to the law-abiding public is something a lot of people find offensive.”

At minimum, all reporters quoted Farida Baig, the daughter of Shahid Ali Baig, whom Quine murdered in 1980. “My dad begged for his life,” Baig told the Associated Press. “It made me dizzy and sick. I’m helping pay for his surgery. I live in California. It’s kind of like a slap in the face.”

California resident Mary Koop is another woman who has felt “slapped in the face” by the California court system. In 1991, Richard Masbruch robbed Koop’s home after binding, electrically shocking and raping her. While in prison, Masbruch experienced gender dysphoria, began hormone treatment and attempted to castrate himself, finally succeeding with acid he found in a prison kitchen. In 2009, the convicted rapist, who now calls himself Sherri, was transferred to a women’s prison, CNN reported. Koop was thunderstruck.  

Transgender inmates make up less than one percent of the California correctional system, yet the state government has already received over 60 requests for surgery since the policy on sex changes was finalized. According to Guerra, a number of these requests have been denied, likely because the severity of the dysphoria does not warrant surgery.

Sex change surgeries generally cost between $40,000 and $75,000, depending on whether they are male to female, or female to male. However, including necessary pre and post care like hormone therapy and counseling, the total cost can reach $100,000. According to prison medical care spokeswoman Joyce Hayhoe, the Federal government will generally recoup a portion—possibly as high as 95 percent—of state expenses. So that means your Federal taxpayer money is probably funding these operations as well.

Although Quine’s surgery may seem like the farthest frontier of the LGBT movement, Transgender Law Center Attorney Flor Bermudez told Guerra that “the work is in no way finished.” Stay tuned for more court rulings and media bias in this arena.

Sarah Stites
Sarah Stites
Sarah Stites is a writer and research analyst for MRC Culture.