By Diana Arlet Salinas Vargas (She/Her)
As fights against racial injustices and a deadly pandemic are occurring, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ+) community received a massive blow to their progress in fighting for equality under the law. There are many painful inequities that have been exposed in America and one more has now been created.
On the fourth anniversary of the Pulse shooting, the current administration “finalized a rule… that would remove nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ+ people when it comes to health care and health insurance,” (Selena Simmons-Duffman, NPR). In other words, this new rule allows federal funded healthcare providers and insurance companies to legally refuse any transition-related care to Transgender Americans.
As a way to annul the civil rights protections that Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) implemented, the Department of Health and Human Services will be “returning to the government’s interpretation of sex discrimination according to the plain meaning of the word ‘sex’ as male or female and as determined by biology,” (Health & Human Services). Although Roger Severino, director of the Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Health and Human Services, claims that people who are Transgender will continue to be protected by other statutes that bar discrimination in healthcare, it is not enough.
With COVID-19, those in the LGBTQ+ community are disadvantaged in both health and economic aspects. This new rule leads America in the wrong direction by enforcing barriers that do not expand the accessibility to healthcare and health programs. Even before this rule came to light, many LGBTQ+ people already feared and avoided seeking health care due to the possibility of facing discrimination. It is outright immoral and inhumane to impede anyone from accessing health care, especially in the midst of a pandemic.
No matter how “confusing” or “uncomfortable” it can be for health care providers to respect a person’s gender identity as Trump claims it can be, these professionals should indefinitely attend to the needs of everyone regardless of their own personal beliefs and opinions. All human beings deserve to be taken care of by medical experts when needed; the same experts who vowed to save lives, all lives, not only those they approve of.
In an interview between Bre Kidman, a nonbinary candidate for US Senate in Maine, and Vox they expressed how they are “afraid that trans people will face things like being deprioritized for ventilators or for care,” (Vox). Unfortunately, this is one of the many terrifying scenarios that the Transgender community can fear. Like Robert Eads, a Transgender man who died because he unknowingly developed ovarian cancer and was denied care by an oncologist (Wikipedia), and Tyra Hunter, a Transgender woman who died after an EMT refused to assist her on the way to the hospital after a car accident, the Transgender community will continuously come to face risks due to the lack of protection (Washington Post).
Whether or not anyone is discriminated against more on behalf of the rule, Katie Keith, a health law professor at Georgetown University, notes that it has already created fear. She supports her claim by referring to evidence that shows that the public charge law affected people and programs. She argues that "when they target these vulnerable populations, you see less enrollment in health insurance... [because]... folks [are] scared to go to the doctor,” (Selena Simmons-Duffman, NPR).
(Figure 1) LGBTQ+ Health Care Discriminations
One in five LGBTQ+ adults have not seen a doctor when needed because they could not afford it. Black LGBTQ+ adults (23%), Latinx LGBTQ+ adults (24%), and all transgender women (29%) are most likely to avoid going to the doctor because of costs. Studies by Lambda Legal show that 56% of LGB people and 70% of transgender and gender non-conforming people reported experiencing discrimination by health care providers — including refusal of care, harsh language, and physical toughness because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. According to a report by the National Center for Transgender Equality, 23% of transgender respondents did not see a doctor when they needed to because of fear of being mistreated as a transgender person and a startling 55% of transgender respondents who sought coverage for transition-related surgery were denied
(Figure 1, Human Rights Campaign).
Although this rule is set to go into effect in mid-August, a coalition of LGBTQ+ advocates sued the Trump administration stating that “a person’s access to health care should not be contingent on their sex, gender identity, transgender status, sexual orientation, race, national origin, age, disability, or religion” and that “when people go to a doctor’s office, hospital, or an emergency room seeking treatment, they expect and are entitled to receive care appropriate to meet their health needs without regard to who they are or the type of health care they seek,” (Lambda Legal). With a recent victory for the LGBTQ+ community regarding civil rights protections in the workplace, the fight continues towards equality.