The state of transgender access to health care in Georgia

New report paints a dire picture

ColbertADVOCATE: Georgians for a Healthy Future Executive Director Laura ColbertCourtesy of Georgians for a Healthy FutureDuring a series of focus groups last year, transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals shared what their experiences were like trying to access health care in Georgia. One participant recounted the blame and judgment they confronted by a health care provider: "These things probably happen to me because 'I'm confused' and that 'I need to believe in a higher power.'" Another person said they felt like they'd be further along in their "journey" if their primary care doctor had not made them "feel scared."

These accounts are just a snapshot of the findings from a new report released last week by Georgia Equality, Georgians for a Healthy Future and The Health Initiative. According to their research, 60 percent of transgender respondents to an online survey taken last year reported being discriminated against while in health care settings because of their gender identity.

"In Georgia and nationally, 33 percent of transgender individuals who saw a health care provider in the past year reported having at least one negative experience related to being transgender," the authors write. "This included being refused treatment, verbally harassed, physically or sexually assaulted, or having to teach the provider about transgender people in order to get appropriate care."

The report the result of four focus groups, the online survey and data pulled from the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey also offered some insight into what protections do exist for transgender individuals. Namely, the report focuses on Section 1557 in the Affordable Care Act, which prohibits discrimination based on gender identity and sex stereotyping, among other factors.

Chanel Haley, the gender inclusion organizer at Georgia Equality, tells Creative Loafing that they "were very surprised to learn that a majority of survey participants knew about Section 1557. Unfortunately and not surprisingly they did not trust the filing-a-complaint process."

In a statement, Georgians for a Healthy Future Executive Director Laura Colbert pointed out how successful the ACA had been in broadening access to health care. "But," she said, "this report shows that there is more work to be done. Policymakers, advocates, and health care providers should work with the transgender community to ensure that the barriers identified in this report are addressed."

Haley agrees. Her hope is that the average Georgian realizes how important it is to speak out not only for protections in health care, but also in the workplace. There are currently no federal and state laws protecting gender identity, she says, and in Georgia, sexual orientation is also not covered under the law.

Among an array of recommendations for federal lawmakers, advocates and health care providers, the report's authors suggest the Georgia General Assembly require health professionals get better training on how to deal with LGBTQ individuals; ban conversion therapy; and pass statewide nondiscrimination protections. These are important steps, the authors note, to ensuring the approximately 55,000 transgender individuals in Georgia are able to get the care they need without feeling shamed or worse.

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