As part of the relaunch of our trans health campaign, our ongoing series of community meetings on transgender healthcare continued on Thursday, March 8, culminating in an evening of conversations around solidarity, accountability, and liberation. During the event, the Sylvia Rivera Law Project (SRLP) collaborated with GMHC, along with various healthcare providers and advocates around the city, to address the lack of affirming and comprehensive healthcare services for transgender, gender non-conforming, and intersex (TGNCI) community members. Through collaboration with these organizations, our goal is to unite and mobilize the community and to put pressure on city government to create sustainable action around healthcare accessibility and culturally sensitive services.
Over 100 attendees gathered in the dining hall of GMHC for an evening of dialogue around issues of healthcare access, featuring panels comprised of TGNCI community members, local healthcare providers and advocates, and legal service providers. As with our first meeting in December, our goal was to center TGNCI community members’ voices and stories, with several portions of the evening dedicated to “town hall”-style open floor discussions, as well as Q&A sessions with panel members. Once again, we heard some powerful anecdotes and calls for justice from our resilient community members.
After a brief introduction from SRLP’s Director of Membership, Sasha Alexander, and Director of Community Engagement & Outreach, Kimberly Mckenzie, a panel of six SRLP members, all of whom are TGNCI community members, fielded questions from Sasha around their experiences with healthcare in NYC. Members shared some of their most impactful experiences, ranging from constant invasive questions from healthcare professionals to being denied insurance coverage for important transition-related needs. One member, Grace, stated that “we as a community need to educate ourselves” around healthcare advocacy and accessibility, while another member, Chanelle, reminded the audience that the community does not work for insurance companies, the insurance companies work for us. Perhaps one of the most powerful statements came from SRLP member Marcie: “This is my body, this is my health” – a short and sweet summary of the concerns raised by community members.
Next, SRLP staff attorney Mik Kinkead, as well as Legal Aid Society representatives Kimberly Forte and Rebecca Novick, led a “know your rights” panel on healthcare rights for TGNCI community members. Rebecca and Kimberly shared some updates from the work Legal Aid Society is doing to ensure healthcare access for the TGNCI community, such as battling insurance companies for coverage and filing grievances on behalf of clients. Rebecca also shared more about the recent legal win including transgender healthcare services as part of Medicaid coverage. The panelists then answered questions from the audience about various legal topics, including out-of-state coverage and surgery costs.
The floor was then opened to community members for the “town hall” style open discussion, during which anyone could share concerns on their mind. One community member, Kyle, touched on the importance of referrals – not only should healthcare professionals hold themselves accountable to the TGNCI community, but they must also be aware of which organizations with whom they collaborate. Local advocate Derrick emphasized the importance of fighting for universal healthcare as part of the larger conversation around healthcare access, while local nurse practitioner Carol shared her recent education around providing affirming OB/GYN care to patients who may need such services and who don’t identify as cis women.
The next panel featured healthcare providers and advocates from around the city, including the following panelists: Sarah Bender of the NYC Health & Hospitals Corporation (HHC), the governmental agency that oversees the NYC public hospitals; Levi Solimine of the Department of Health & Mental Hygiene; Deeangelys Colon of the Gerald J. Friedman Transgender Health & Wellness Program, a new initiative at Lenox Hill Hospital focusing on TGNCI health services; and Nathan Levitt of the NYU Langone Medical Center. Each panelist briefly provided updates on their organization’s work, then answered questions from the audience. Sarah discussed the inclusion of undocumented TGNCI immigrants as part of HHC’s vision for revamping healthcare services in NYC, while Levi discussed a new initiative to redesign various flyers and posters on subways and around the city to be more TGNCI-inclusive. Next, Deeangelys shared some of the services of her new program, including a plan to implement an “esthetician” service that helps low-income TGNCI individuals find gender-affirming clothing, hairstyles, and makeup. Finally, Nathan discussed his practice’s recent focus on improving post-surgical care, especially for patients who are caregivers and who need to get back on their feet as soon as they can.
The final panel of the evening featured representatives from Amida Care, a NYC insurance organization committed to HIV healthcare and prevention. Panelists each shared their roles at Amida Care, while panel leader Kevin Steffens shared some updates around TGNCI inclusion under Medicaid, initiatives on accessibility to PrEP and other HIV prevention resources, and efforts to be more inclusive of non-binary and gender non-conforming clients. The panel closed out with more questions from the audience, including discussions on TGNCI representation within these healthcare organizations, as well more legal questions from audience members.
We are so grateful to the community members who shared their voices and stories, to the healthcare providers who took the time to be a part of the conversation and show how they hold themselves accountable to the community, and to GMHC for hosting our second meeting on TGNCI healthcare. Overall, it was an evening full of passion and commitment to justice for the TGNCI community, and we hope to keep the conversation going as we move forward.