Overcoming Health Care Discrimination

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Transgender Rights Toolkit: A Legal Guide For Trans People and Their Advocates

Ambulance workers jeered at and refused to treat Tyra Hunter, a transgender woman seriously injured in a car accident outside Washington, DC who later died from her wounds. The same kind of hate-fueled medical negligence killed Robert Eads, a transgender man with ovarian cancer whom 20 separate doctors wouldn’t treat; one said the diagnosis should make Eads “deal with the fact that he is not a real man.”

It’s stories like these that scare many transgender people away from routine checkups and other needed care, and cause them to suff er disproportionately from untreated medical conditions. Th ere’s also reason to fear a provider will share your transgender status with people who have no need to know; ask invasive and irrelevant questions; or purposefully use the wrong name or pronoun. Seventy percent of the transgender or gender-nonconforming (TGNC) people polled in a 2009 Lambda Legal survey experienced some sort of health care discrimination or harassment.

Yet individual mistreatment is just part of the problem; the health caresystem neglects TGNC people as a matter of policy. For instance, most insurance companies refuse to cover transition-related health care even when a doctor considers it medically necessary. Th is is true despite medical consensus on the “effi cacy, benefi t and medical necessity” of transition-related treatment, as the American Psychological Association described it in 2008. (For more about that, see “Transition-Related Health Care,” which is also part of this Transgender Rights Toolkit, at www.lambdalegal.org/trans-toolkit.)

Everyone deserves to be treated with respect in health care settings; good experiences do more than treat illness or injury. Studies show that suicide rates drop signifi cantly when transgender people are able to access appropriate medical care.

Th is fact sheet is a practical guide to accessing basic, quality health care, whether from your family doctors or from one of the LGBT community health clinics stepping in when mainstream doctors and facilities fail to meet the needs of TGNC patients. If you have experienced health care discrimination because you are TGNC, contact Lambda Legal’s Help Desk for legal advice or support, at 866-542-8336 or www.lambdalegal.org/help-form.

February 7, 2013