Woman Wins IRS Fight for Right to Write Off Sex Change Operation
February 3, 2010 - 6:50 PMA woman who battled the IRS over a tax deduction for the costs of her sex-change operation says she feels like she won a victory for all transgender people.
Rhiannon O'Donnabhain, who was born a man, sued the Internal Revenue Service in 2007 after the agency rejected a $5,000 deduction for about $25,000 in medical expenses associated with the sex-change surgery, finding it was a cosmetic procedure and not medically necessary.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Tax Court ruled that O'Donnabhain should be allowed to deduct the costs of her treatment for gender-identity disorder, including sex-reassignment surgery and hormone treatments.
"The tax court has spoken for my community and has supported my community by saying that this is a proper medical deduction, much the same as an appendectomy or open heart surgery," O'Donnabhain said in an interview Wednesday.
"It was a proper medical deduction, and it certainly is not cosmetic surgery as the IRS contended," she said.
IRS spokeswoman Michelle Eldridge declined to comment on the ruling.
The legal group Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, which represented O'Donnabhain, said the decision could potentially affect thousands of people a year in the U.S. who undergo similar operations.
Lambda Legal, a national civil rights group for lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender people, called the ruling "a case of the federal government catching up with medical standards."
"I think it's an important decision that could help educate and bring along transgender rights in other areas because it ratifies what the medical community has said clearly for years, which is for people with gender identity disorder, this type of surgery is frequently a medical necessity for their lives and for their health and for their well-being," said Hayley Gorenberg, deputy legal director at Lambda Legal.
The Tax Court voted 11-5 to grant the deduction.
In a dissenting opinion, Judge David Gustafson said he believes sex reassignment surgery falls within the "cosmetic surgery" category of the tax code and the expense is therefore not deductible.
Even if such surgery "is medically indicated ... it is an otherwise cosmetic procedure that does not 'treat' the mental disease," Gustafson wrote.
O'Donnabhain said she underwent sex-reassignment surgery at age 57, after a tormented existence as a father, husband, Coast Guardsman and construction worker.
An estimated 1,600 to 2,000 people a year undergo sex-change surgery in the United States, according to the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association.
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