Health Experts Aim to Allay Transgender People’s Fears of New Administration

transgender health experts
Transgender healthcare experts Ezra Young, Ali Harris and Ronica Mukurjee respond to concerns from the New York LGBTQ community. (The Ink/Santiago Arnaiz)

The woman would only give her name as Adjoa in order to protect the privacy of her transgender son. She came to the Sunday transgender health policy meeting at the Brooklyn Public Library with a stack of insurance documents. “There’s definitely some fear of what might happen with the coming administration,” she said.

Adjoa was one of about 30 people who attended the meeting in person; 34 others watched on a live webcast. They received some reassurance from a panel that included Ronica Mukurjee, a family nurse practitioner with the SUNY Downstate Special Treatment and Research Program, who organized the event along with Ezra Young, staff attorney with the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, and Ali Harris, the LGBTQ health coordinator for the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

As medical, legal and public health experts in transgender health services, the panelists hoped to allay fears, pinpoint actual dangers ahead and establish concrete steps for the New York trans community to ready itself for the near future.

Young explained that the rumors about President-elect Donald Trump’s coming federal court nominations and the possible repeal of the Affordable Care Act (known as Obamacare) —which many trans people rely on for hormonal medication and related services—were not an immediate reason to panic. The legal infrastructure supporting trans healthcare is unlikely to change any time soon, he said. “Obamacare has been very great for trans people,” he said. “But understand that Obamacare is just one tiny piece of a much larger sphere.”

Young cited the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 and other interlocking pieces of anti-discrimination legislation that run parallel on both federal and state levels. The legislators, he explained, fashioned these laws in a way that make it nearly impossible to repeal any of them individually. “Often during more progressive administrations, we complain about how slowly changes are made,” said Harris. “I suppose now it’s a benefit, in a more hostile environment, that courts move really slowly.”

One audience member, a trans health service provider, raised concerns over changes in insurance coverage for her patients. Mukurjee, who is also a member of the New York State transgender health insurance compliance workgroup, echoed Young, saying insurance policies are similarly unlikely to change in the next few months. “Hormonal coverage really has nothing to do with who the president is or who runs Congress,” she said.

Healthy People 2020, the national health promotion and disease prevention initiative that forms the backbone of the nation’s health objectives all the way up to the end of Trump’s presidency, lists transgender people as a formal category in its research methodologies—a technicality with far-reaching implications. With this inclusion, the federal government is formally acknowledging and legitimizing the trans community. “Healthcare programs will have a trans-focus moving forward,” said Harris. “This is going to trickle down to every level of data collection. It’s happening slowly, but it’s happening.”

But the experts had some warnings as well. According to Harris, the major concern is that although little can be done to take apart the infrastructure built in the past few decades, the new administration can very well diminish its capacity to protect the trans community by defunding them. “Unfortunately, anti-trans discrimination is rampant in our society,” said Harris. “That is not going to change or necessarily get better in the next four to eight years.” In response, the panel called on the members of the trans community to map out their medical needs, to educate themselves on how best to meet them and to follow reputable news agencies as the next administration continues to take shape.

“It’s comforting to hear the speakers reassuring us that things won’t change too drastically,” Adjoa said. “But now, more than ever,  we have to be really smart. So workshops like these are going to be incredibly important. I need to arm myself and connect with like-minded folk, so that if things play out in a way that puts those I care about at risk, we’re ready for it.”