OpEd: New York’s Ongoing Battle for Transgender Rights

Getty Images

New York’s Ongoing Battle for Transgender Rights

New York has long been a leader in the fight for LGBTQ+ rights. But last month, we were served a stark reminder that we are not immune from attacks on the basic rights of our transgender and gender-expressive neighbors when Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman signed an executive order banning transgender athletes from competing in events aligning with their gender identity in county-run facilities. This discriminatory action illustrates why we must remain vigilant in safeguarding the rights of transgender and gender-expressive people, and underlines the importance of actions Governor Kathy Hochul and the New York State Legislature have taken to protect trans New Yorkers.    

It seems like every day we read about efforts to strip basic rights away from transgender and gender-expansive people. This year alone, 513 bills targeting the trans community have been introduced in legislatures across 41 states.  These attacks have very real consequences. People of trans experience are disproportionately subject to violence and face discrimination in housing, education and the workplace.

Many of these bills seek to curtail access to gender-affirming health care, an evidence-based, medical best practice that saves lives. This is especially troubling, as transgender and gender-expansive people are more likely to suffer from health disparities and too often face discrimination and harassment in healthcare settings. And while we have made tremendous strides to end HIV/AIDS, the trans community continues to be disproportionately impacted by the epidemic – transgender women are 49 times more likely to be living with HIV compared with the general population.

Thankfully, these attacks on gender-affirming health care aren’t gaining traction in New York.     That is in large part due to the leadership of Governor Hochul and the New York State Legislature, who are taking concrete steps to protect transgender and gender-expansive New Yorkers and help them access health care.

Last year, New York enacted the Safe Haven for Transgender Youth and Families Act. The legislation was championed by Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal and Assembly Member Harry Bronson and signed into law by Governor Hochul.  This legislation safeguards transgender youth from out-of-state laws prohibiting families from determining their child’s need for gender-affirming care – a crucial step in ensuring that people of trans experience can get the care they need to live as their authentic selves.

This year, Governor Hochul is building on this important work. She has recommended expanding the Lorena Borjas Trans Equity Fund, which provides vital funding to organizations that serve the trans community. In her state of the state, she outlined a plan to strengthen access to gender-affirming care by updating Medicaid coverage requirements to align with the newest version of the Standards of Care for the Health of Transgender and Gender Diverse People, and issued new guidance to ensure that commercial insurers incorporate the standards into their medical necessity criteria as well. 

At Amida Care– New York’s largest Medicaid Special Needs Health Plan designed for people affected by HIV, including transgender and gender-expansive New Yorkers regardless of HIV status – we have fully adopted these standards because we know they improve health outcomes. We are encouraged that the Governor is working to remove barriers so all trans New Yorkers, regardless of their health plan, can access care.

While states around the country seek to create further barriers for trans people, New York must remain a beacon and a leader in safeguarding the rights of our trans neighbors. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to transgender and gender-expansive New Yorkers who have stood up and fought to make our state a fairer, more just place. The progress we have made honors the memory of Cecilia Gentili, who was tireless in her advocacy to protect trans New Yorkers – including children. We need to stand up against discrimination and build on the work Governor Hochul and the Legislature have done to help New Yorkers of trans experience live happier, healthier lives as their authentic selves.           

Wirth is the President and CEO of Amida Care, New York State’s largest Medicaid Special Needs Health Plan