Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=230520
Story Retrieval Date: 7/28/2014 3:18:00 AM CST
Courtesy of Lambda Legal
It started with the phrase “people like you,” sparking the first federal discrimination suit citing a provision of the Affordable Care Act that extends civil rights to transgender patients.
On April 15, Lambda Legal, the nation’s largest civil rights law firm representing the LGBT community, filed the suit with the U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois, Urbana Division, on behalf of their client, Naya Taylor, a 45-year-old transgender woman who was allegedly denied treatment by her primary care physician, Dr. Aja Lystila.
At stake is whether transgender men and women across the United States can access proper health care without discrimination.
Taylor has lived in the small town of Mattoon, Ill., located just a three-hour drive south of Chicago on Interstate 57, for about 28 years — more than half of her life. She said the community has always been open-minded and supportive.
“They knew, everybody knew. I’ve always been me,” Taylor said in an interview. “My mom asked me when I was about 4 years old what I wanted to be, and I said, ‘I want to be a mommy and wife.’”
She started wearing makeup at 14 and has been on and off estrogen since 18. She was not taking hormones when she started seeing Lystila about 10 years ago. Last year, with the guidance of a social worker, Taylor decided it was time to begin hormone replacement therapy again, but when she asked Lystila for help, she refused, according to Taylor’s lawsuit.
“She said she was not experienced in providing hormones to transgendered people, but it’s just estrogen. They give it to women who are menopausal, or women trying to have a baby. It’s the same treatment,” Taylor said. “Why was I the different one?”
Lystila and her physician group, The Carle Foundation, declined to comment. Lawyers for Lystila and the Carle Foundation have 60 days from their April 16 notification of the lawsuit to file a response.
Hormone replacement therapy is a medically necessary treatment for what is formally classified as gender dysphoria. Taylor said that when she tried to advocate for herself to get the treatment she needed, the clinic responded to her by saying, “We don’t need to treat people like you.”
According to the Affordable Care Act however, they do.
“One of the purposes of the Affordable Care Act was to make sure that there was robust discrimination protection so that people could access health care, afford health care and receive health care services on par with other people,” Ken Upton, one of Taylor’s lawyers at Lambda Legal said. “Before the Affordable Care Act, there were only remedies under state law, if there were any at all.”
Illinois is one of those states. The Illinois non-discrimination act has protections and accommodations for transgender men and women that extend to health care. Lambda Legal filed a complaint with the Illinois Human Rights Commission under the state law on the same day they filed the federal suit.
“One of the reasons we chose to bring it as a federal law suit instead of a private complaint is that we wanted to do some public education,” Upton said. “We wanted it to be visible, and get the argument to be out in the open. Hopefully health care professionals and insurance companies both will take notice and realize this is an aspect of the new law that they’ll have to pay attention to.”