It’s usually a packed commute when Prince George’s County Facilities Director Jasmine Bryant goes to her job at the Theresa Banks Memorial Aquatic Center, but now when she heads out to do payroll and other essential duties the beltway is “eerily empty.”
Prince George’s County, Maryland currently leads the state with 785 coronavirus cases and 16 related deaths. State efforts to flatten the curve include a directive released March 23 ceasing “All elective and non-urgent medical procedures and appointments,” raising concerns about gender-affirming care.
“Personally, I would have been devastated if my surgery had been cancelled because it was something I had been looking forward to for years,” Bryant, who recovered from her own surgeries earlier this year, said, “But people starting the process, it might be grinding to a halt, so I consider myself very fortunate.”
The facilities director, who is also a peer facilitator for a transgender support group at the D.C. Center, considers herself lucky in many ways despite barriers imposed by the crisis.
Though she lives under a stay-at-home order in Upper Marlboro, she has roommates and plenty of pets to keep her company.
“I have a dog,” Bryant said, her usual business-like voice softening. “Oliver’s a beagle-shepard mix about three or four years old.”
Though Oliver belongs to one of her roommates, Bryant plays with him and he snuggles up to her or another friend when he’s lonely.
“It’s definitely helpful because you don’t feel nearly as isolated,” she said, pausing to consider her constant and steady friend. “I do worry about when we do go back to ‘normal’ and how he is going to handle the separation. He’s been under me, enjoying me being here.”
Something in her voice shows that she clearly enjoys his being there as well.
Bryant is also fortunate in that she still pulls in a check. She risks her health to ensure others are paid as well.
“I feel like making payroll is that much more important. I’m full-time but I need to make sure my part-time employees are paid correctly,” she explained. “I do that by calling employees and making sure they understand how the process works, so they can reach out and utilize their benefits also.”
This concern for her coworkers spills over to a larger concern for the transgender community, especially those who might no longer have access to what could be life-saving care.
The American Medical Association has repeatedly asserted, most notably since the Supreme Court’s 1994 Farmer v. Brennan decision and up to 2018 arguments against the Veterans Health Administration’s proposed exclusion, that gender-affirming surgery is widely accepted as medically necessary for patients suffering with gender dysphoria.
While Bryant understands the urgent need to prioritize hospital services for the surge of cases brought on by the global pandemic, she worries about the message sent to the transgender community.
“It really hurts and it really is a sign that people aren’t really taking the time to understand trans issues,” she said, trying hard not to be upset. “For a lot of people it is a life or death issue, and to minimize it as ‘nonessential’ is really hurtful. We realize that now may not be the best time, but that doesn’t mean our care is not essential to our wellbeing.”
As a peer facilitator, Bryant particularly worries about trans youth who may lack the positive, affirming connections they may have forged prior to the lockdown orders.
“They may be at home in a situation where they are not accepted or validated,” she explained. “I feel that something major taken away from them is the ability to go out and be themselves. So, I reach out to them and see how they are doing.”
In her group, Bryant uses video conferencing to check in with members who may not be as fortunate as she is to be in a supportive place both socially and at work.
“I was promoted last year at this time,” she said, speaking of the positive reaction most coworkers have had to her transition. “I was going to be on a panel in D.C. for diversity in aquatics, which is a male-dominated field. It was scheduled for later this month and has been cancelled.”
Bryant was nominated by friends who told the organizer that she had recently transitioned. The organizer extended an invitation to Bryant as a trans woman of color.
“That’s an opportunity for visibility that has been lost,” Bryant lamented. “But they are talking about extending the opportunity next year.”
Other lost opportunities for visibility and support sadden Bryant as well.
“I was looking forward to Pride and it’s been cancelled. I knew that was coming. Black Pride was the first to cancel and that’s how I knew that Capital Pride and Trans Pride were going to be cancelled as well.”
(As of this week, Capital Pride has said Pride is postponed, but Black Pride announced last week it is cancelling this year’s celebration.)
Bryant said she especially misses going to A League of Her Own and Nellie’s Sports Bar, both in D.C. She said those were two places in particular where she felt safe to be herself.
To keep herself positive and busy, Bryant cooks and participates in virtual food challenges with friends from a part-time hospitality job at D.C.’s National Harbor resort. Bryant lost 120 pounds last year and makes healthy but sumptuous comfort foods like vegetarian burgers and sausages for the challenge.
“Little things brighten up our spirits,” she said. “We all have to kind of take care of each other right now, whether by group chat or by just checking in and being positive with each other.”
Though Bryant worries about her community, she knows we’ll all get through this together.
“I would say wherever you fall in the LGBTQ community spectrum, you are valid and you are important, whether or not you are in a situation where you can’t get that from the people around you right now,” she said. “You are not any less valued and we will eventually return to a sense of normalcy.”