Victory for Oregon's Transgender State Workers

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January 17, 2013
Lambda Legal client Alec Esquivel

Oregon has changed its state employees' health care policies to include transition-related health care for transgender people, Lambda Legal announced today.

The change came in response to Lambda Legal's lawsuit on behalf of state employee Alec Esquivel, who was denied insurance coverage for a medically necessary surgery because he is transgender.

Esquivel says:

This is a huge relief for me, and I appreciate that the state has clarified its health benefits policy to ensure others will not have to go through what I did to access the health care prescribed by their doctor

Designated female at birth, Esquivel was diagnosed with gender identity disorder (GID) in 2001 and began to take steps to align his body with his longstanding male gender identity. In 2010, Esquivel's doctor recommended that he undergo a hysterectomy as part of his treatment, but the doctor's request for insurance coverage was denied based on the plan's categorical exclusion of transition-related health care. 

in 2011, Lambda Legal—along with Jennifer Middleton of co-counsel Johnson Johnson Larson & Schaller in Eugene—sued the state and the Public Employees' Benefit Board, arguing that Oregon's antidiscrimination law prohibits an employer from denying insurance coverage on the basis of gender identity.

Lambda Legal Staff Attorney Tara Borelli says:

By removing the categorical exclusion that prevented Alec Esquivel from accessing critically necessary health care, the state of Oregon has replaced a discriminatory, harmful barrier with a commitment to treating employees equally. Alec was denied coverage simply because he is transgender. When the State refused to provide him with coverage for the same medical procedure that co-workers could access, Alec was compensated less based on his gender identity.  Oregon has now corrected that inequity.

GID is a serious medical condition recognized by the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, and the World Health Organization. Treatment varies by individual, but can involve a combination of hormone therapy, sex reassignment surgery and psychotherapy. The AMA and other major medical associations have called for an end to discriminatory exclusions of medical care in health insurance policies for people with GID.  

Learn more about transition-related health care here.