2016 legislative sessions around the country have introduced a slew of distressing and shameful new laws aimed at stripping equal rights from the LGBTQ community. Hundreds more of these discriminatory proposals are still pending in state legislatures all around the country, and many are explicitly targeted at and deeply harmful to transgender people. As the Fenway Institute and the Center for American Progress point out in a recent report, stigmatizing and alienating the LGBTQ community, particularly transgender individuals, damages people’s health and fractures the gains we have made in ensuring equal access to high-quality affordable health care.
In Mississippi, Governor Phil Bryant approved sweeping legislation that allows individuals, religious organizations and businesses to deny services to LGBTQ individuals and families if they believe providing these services violates their religious beliefs. Governor Pat McCrory of North Carolina took particular aim at the transgender community, signing a bill into law that requires people to use the restroom that matches their sex at birth, regardless of their gender identity, the sex on their identity documents, or their physical safety. And in Tennessee, Governor Bill Haslam and legislators approved a bill that allows counselors and therapists in Tennessee to turn away LGBTQ clients by claiming that serving them would violate their “sincerely held principles”.
These actions undermine the gains made in the fight for LGBTQ civil rights across the country. What’s more, laws like this have a particularly negative impact on the health of LGBTQ individuals who, when further stigmatized and marginalized in their own communities, are less likely to seek out the critical medical care they need. This is especially true for transgender people—the 2011 National Transgender Discrimination Survey reported that 28 percent of respondents delayed medical care when they were sick or injured due to discrimination.
The Fenway Institute and Center for American Progress policy brief further explains that these discriminatory “bathroom bills” that exclude protections in public spaces, like the legislation approved in North Carolina, fundamentally threaten the wellbeing of the transgender community. The brief notes that “discrimination in public accommodations was also significantly associated with several negative health care utilization behaviors, including postponing needed medical care when sick or injured, postponing routine preventive care, and postponing care that resulted in having a medical emergency that required going to the emergency room or urgent care.”
Yet even amidst this news of discrimination, we should point out the progress being made for LGBTQ people – and their families – across the United States. The Obama Administration recently announced two groundbreaking federal policy changes that extend further protections to transgender Americans. Last month, the U.S. Department of Education and Department of Justice issued a directive to states to allow students in public schools to use the restrooms and other facilities that align with their gender identity. On the very same day, the Administration announced that Affordable Care Act Section 1557 prohibits health insurers and health care providers from denying coverage and services to transgender individuals and other members of the LGBTQ community on the basis of gender identity or sex stereotypes, including being in a relationship with a person of the same sex. LGBTQ individuals who experience discrimination in trying to access health insurance coverage or health care can file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights.
It is crucial that we continue to shine a light on the significant health disparities LGBTQ individuals face. Many LGBTQ people still lack access to high quality, culturally competent health care, especially in states that have not closed the Medicaid coverage gap. Transgender people, particularly transgender people of color, are even more likely to lack health insurance or be unable afford out of pocket costs for critical health care services.
Community Catalyst is working with advocates across the country to battle these disparities. In the next year, our partners will work on ensuring the effective implementation of new federal and state requirements regarding nondiscrimination in health insurance coverage for transgender people, develop tools to help LGBTQ consumers track their complaints about denials or discrimination effectively, and continue to partner with organizations such as Out2Enroll to engage in targeted outreach and enrollment efforts tied to cultural competency trainings. To learn more about some of our health equity work, visit our website.