April 1, 2013 at 7:09 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Transgender health care rally in D.C. draws more than 100
rally for transgender equality and economic justice, gay news, Washington Blade

(Washington Blade photo by Tyler Grigsby)

More than 100 people attended a rally in Columbia Heights on Saturday in support of equal access to health care for transgender people.

“We are here today to advocate for trans competent health care providers and for health care for the transgender community,” organizer Bryce Jordan Celotto said.

Nico Quintana, who came out as trans when he was 19, binded his chest for 10 years because his health insurance providers did not cover transition-related care.

He received a double mastectomy at an out-patient facility last year after saving more than $7,000, but developed an infection in his chest after the surgery. Quintana was hospitalized three times — and he said the personnel who admitted him to the hospital asked whether he was a man or a woman before they processed him.

“No one should have to think about that when they’re dying,” he said.

A 2011 study from the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force noted 28 percent of respondents said they experienced harassment while in a doctor’s office or another health care setting. Forty-eight percent of respondents postponed medical care because they could not afford it.

Nearly a fifth of survey participants said a doctor or other health care provider refused to treat them because of their gender identity and expression. The study notes this figure is higher among trans people of color.

“It’s a sad state of affairs when the number one prerequisite for a good health care [provider] is that they’re nice,” Thomas Coughlin of Whitman-Walker Health said. He noted clients drive up to six hours to access trans-specific care at his agency. “One of our goals is to educate people about trans care and trans-sensitive health.”

Andy Bowen of the D.C. Trans Coalition and others who spoke at the rally applauded the D.C. government’s efforts to address health care and employment disparities among trans Washingtonians.

Then-Mayor Anthony Williams in 2005 signed a bill that added gender identity and expression to the D.C. Human Rights Law. The Metropolitan Police Department and the D.C. Department of Corrections have also released trans sensitivity guidelines.

More than 70 people have graduated from the Project Empowerment program the D.C. Department of Employment Services launched in 2011 as a way to help reduce unemployment and poverty rates among trans Washingtonians. The city’s insurance regulator last month also clarified existing regulations to say health insurance providers cannot discriminate against their trans policy holders.

Mayor Vincent Gray and other D.C. officials last September unveiled the country’s first publicly-funded campaign to combat anti-trans discrimination, but advocates stressed they need to do more to improve access to health care and reduce economic disparities among trans Washingtonians.

Tyra Hunter died from injuries she sustained during a 1995 car accident after emergency medical personnel who responded to the scene declined to treat her once they discovered she was trans. D.C. Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe last fall apologized to Hunter’s family on behalf of the department during a Transgender Day of Remembrance commemoration at the Metropolitan Community Church in Northwest Washington.

Bowen urged D.C. Medicare, Alliance and other publicly-funded health plans to cover trans-specific health care needs, such as hormones, and procedures.

The JaParker Deoni Jones Birth Certificate Equality Amendment Act of 2013, which is named for the trans woman whom Gary Niles Montgomery allegedly stabbed to death at a Northeast D.C. bus stop in Feb. 2012, would allow Washingtonians to legally change the gender on their birth certificates without sex-reassignment surgery.

The D.C. Council has scheduled a May 16 hearing on the proposal, but Casa Ruby CEO Ruby Corado said during the rally that the city needs to enforce existing laws designed to protect trans Washingtonians from discrimination.

“People have rights here,” she said. “We have human rights for everybody. There is equality.”

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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