What It Was Like to Be Denied Medical Care Because of My Gender

Transgender people require healthcare just like everyone else. We are not asking for special privileges; we just want to have the same access to medical care all Americans are guaranteed under law.

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Jun 29 2018, 8:43pm

Evan Minton. Photo courtesy of subject

Following the Supreme Court's decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, we are taking an in-depth look at how religious freedom is increasingly being distorted and exploited to justify discrimination against LGBT people, women, and others. This six-part series examines the resulting consequences through the firsthand accounts of those who have experienced it. You can read more from the series here.

In 2016, I was scheduled to have a hysterectomy. My doctor, whom I had been seeing for about three years, had performed this surgery many times at our local hospital, and as anyone who has had any sort of significant surgery can attest, it is incredibly important to have a doctor you know and who knows you performing this medical procedure.

Two days before I was supposed to go in for the procedure, I got a call from a nurse to go over the details and finalize my paperwork. During that call, I mentioned that I was transgender. The very next day, my surgeon received a call from the hospital. They told her they were canceling the procedure.

It was clear why. I was denied a routine medical procedure that would have been offered to anyone else, because of who I am.

At that time, I had already been transitioning for five years. Prior to that, I had spent 29 years living a shame-filled existence. Looking back, I can see now that my life was like a jigsaw puzzle where none of the pieces fit together. And no matter what I did to try to address how I was feeling, nothing worked. Once I finally accepted who I was, that shame completely evaporated. Each major step in my transition gives me a sense of bliss, which is how I know I’m on the right track.

I am truly proud of who I am, but my journey hasn’t been easy. Even living in a progressive state like California, I have confronted plenty of challenges and have experienced my fair share of difficult days. Without a doubt, though, the most jaw-dropping of these was the day the hospital cancelled my surgery.


Watch: Gavin Grimm: The Student At The Heart of the Trans Civil Rights Movement

The hospital—Mercy San Juan Medical Center in Sacramento—is run by Dignity Health, the largest nonprofit healthcare system in California, and the fifth largest in the country. When they refused to allow my surgeon, Dr. Lindsey Dawson, to perform the hysterectomy on me, she was totally blindsided, just as I was. We both knew I was being discriminated against solely because of who I am.

Dignity Health used to be called Catholic Healthcare West, but changed its name and rebranded itself in 2012. Despite the rebrand, they are still affiliated with the Catholic Church, and its Catholic hospitals still operate under the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services – a series of guidelines for medical care written by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which prohibits, among other things, “direct sterilization” treatment.

Since the Catholic Church hierarchy doesn’t even recognize that transgender people like me exist, they deem hysterectomies for people like me “sterilizing,” even though they permit doctors to perform them on many other patients.

I had come so far in my transition, and the actions by the hospital felt like a complete rejection of who I am. I had rejected myself for 29 years; having my surgery canceled brought back all of those feelings, despite five years of progress and acceptance. It made me feel like I wanted to crawl out of my own skin again.

I ended up receiving the care I needed at a different hospital. But that doesn’t make what happened to me OK. No one should have to scramble ahead of surgery like I did. No one should have to work with their doctor to get emergency admitting privileges at an unfamiliar hospital to perform a procedure with an unfamiliar surgical team. No one should have to live with that amount of uncertainty, waiting until the night before to learn whether they can move forward with a medically necessary surgery, just because of who they are.

This is what happens when an organization is given a license to discriminate against you because their religious beliefs say people like you don’t exist. My story is one that is devastatingly all too familiar for other trans people across the country, and the situation continues to grow more dire with every passing day under the Trump administration.

President Trump has made his position on transgender rights very clear, from trying to ban us from serving in the military, to ignoring complaints of discrimination filed with the Department of Education by trans students, and denying us access to restrooms and other public spaces.

But it doesn’t stop there. Just this year alone, Trump’s Department of Health and Human Services launched a “Conscience and Religious Freedom Division,” and is ultimately proposing rules to try and extend the right to discriminate based on religious beliefs to any healthcare provider in this country.

Transgender people require healthcare just like everyone else. We are not asking for special privileges; we just want to have the same access to medical care all Americans are guaranteed under law. We want to be able to go to the doctor and other public places without fear of discrimination, rejection, embarrassment, and humiliation.

But experiences like my own are sadly happening to trans people everywhere. It happened to me, it’s happening to others, and it can happen to anyone—even you or someone you love.