On Thursday, November 9th, the Sylvia Rivera Law Project (SRLP) teamed up with the LGBT Community Center at West 13th to create an affirming and community-driven space to discuss trans healthcare and to learn about the work being done by our allies around the city. During our “What’s Up with Trans Healthcare?” Town Hall, the main goal was to mobilize the community and put pressure on the city government to address the stark lack of affirming and comprehensive healthcare services for transgender, gender non-conforming, and intersex (TGNCI) individuals. The TGNCI community deserves full access to such services, and SRLP has relaunched our trans health campaign in order to ensure that access.
Community members and activists gathered in one of the conference rooms at the LGBT Center on West 13th in Chelsea for a night of educating and organizing around trans healthcare issues, with representatives of various governmental and non-profit organizations in attendance. The event featured panels composed of these representatives, as well as members of SRLP and our partners from the Legal Aid Society, Callen-Lorde Community Health Center, and Transcend Legal, among others. Perhaps the most exciting portion of the night was the “town hall”-style open floor discussion led by our community, members of which got to voice their experiences with healthcare. We heard so many impactful stories, some of which we’ll share below.
The night opened with Sasha Alexander, our Director of Membership, who laid out group agreements for discussion, making sure to emphasize that the event would center TGNCI voices first. Next, a panel comprised of Belkys Garcia of the Legal Aid Society and Kimberleigh Smith of Callen-Lorde, along with Mik Kinkead and Kyle Rapiñan, attorneys at SRLP, spoke on the legal history of and barriers surrounding trans healthcare rights. Belkys and Kimberleigh outlined a “Know Your Rights” segment, in which they shared the various rights that TGNCI patients should be aware of, as well as some of the legal battles that have taken place over the past two decades to ensure those rights. Mik and Kyle then discussed a demand letter composed in part by SRLP, which was sent to the New York State Department of Health demanding equal and fair access to trans-related healthcare services for TGNCI patients.
Next, Simon Andrade, LGBT Health Coordinator for the New York City Department of Health & Mental Health (NYC DOHMH), shared some of the exciting work being done by the city to address intersections of racism, sexism, and queerphobia in the realm of healthcare, including creating more diversity in healthcare staff at various facilities. NYC DOHMH is also working on updating their computer databases to be inclusive of various gender identities, and they are developing an official to be posted in all hospitals around the city. Both the first panel and Simon’s presentation were met with nuanced responses from the community, who raised various issues from student healthcare needs to training frontline staff at medical facilities to be more affirming.
Sasha then opened the floor to the community to voice their concerns to the healthcare professionals and activists in the room, as well as to support each other in this time of change. SRLP member Armand shared some of his negative experiences undergoing cancer treatment as a trans person and urged the city and the community to fight against stigmatization and mistreatment in healthcare. He also announced that he will be conducting cultural competency classes at Beth Israel Hospital on West 15th. Members Grace and Sheneeneh shared words of resiliency and power as they comforted community members to “keep loving [themselves]” and to stay strong in the face of adversity. Overall, this segment was so powerful and so important in terms of building community power.
After the open floor discussion, Sarah Bender from the New York City Health + Hospitals Corporation (NYC HHC) spoke about some of the work her organization is doing to improve trans healthcare services. She shared that her committee has all been trained by trans community members on cultural competency and affirmative services, trainings which will be passed on to healthcare staff around the city. NYC HHC is working on establishing two “pride health centers” by next year, which will be LGBTQ-centric hospitals providing affirmative services. They hope to expand even more after that, stating that “there should be no wrong doors to any hospital.” Sarah also reminded the community that being discriminated against is against the law and urged the room to keep their rights in mind. One community member asked Sarah how likely it is that these services will come to fruition so soon, but Sarah showed her passion and enthusiasm as an ally to the community by reassuring the room that the city is indeed committed to establishing justice for the TGNCI community.
Finally, the evening closed out with another panel of healthcare providers and advocates. Noah Lewis of Transcend Legal, a healthcare rights advocacy organization; Vijou Bryant of APICHA, a community health center in Lower Manhattan; Dhanna Perry of Callen-Lorde; and Julian Cabezas of Community Healthcare Network, a healthcare organization working on various trans-related advocacy needs, such as name changes and healthcare access. Each presented on the work that their organizations do, and then took questions from the audience, who sought more information on legal rights and self-advocacy.
Overall, the “What’s Up with Trans Healthcare” Town Hall was a huge success, and we are so grateful to the community members who came to voice their concerns and fight for justice, as well as to the many service providers who came to discuss their work and dedicate themselves to being true allies. This event is only the first in a series of events we are planning, so please stay tuned for the second town hall event coming in January 2018!