President Obama's memo that bans
hospitals from discriminating against gay men and lesbians also
protects transgender folks, but activists say obstacles remain.
The order signed by the president late
Thursday prohibits hospitals that accept federal funding from
Medicare and Medicaid, the government's elderly and poor health care
programs, from discriminating on the basis of a variety of
characteristics, including sexual orientation and gender identity.
It also prevents hospitals from denying visitation rights to the
partners of gay men and lesbians, and requires officials to honor
patients' wishes of who can make medical decisions on their behalf.
Gay rights groups called the memo a
small but significant contribution towards equality in the absence of
the legal right to marry in most jurisdictions.
While applauding the action,
transgender activists said complicated issues remain for people who
have altered their gender.
“Many transgender people also
identify as gay or lesbian,” Denise Leclair, executive
director of the International
Foundation for Gender Education, told On Top Magazine in
an email. “So this bill affects them the exact same way as other
gay and lesbian couples.”
Leclair, however, went on to say that
lawmakers have yet to address the needs of transgender people who
identify as straight. Those couples often have their legal marriages
questioned. Leclair pointed to the case of Christie Littleton, a
transgender woman whose marriage was successfully invalidated by an
insurance company to prevent her from having standing in a
malpractice lawsuit. Lawyers argued that Littleton remained a man
despite having undergone gender reassignment, and as such could not
legally marry Jonathan Mark Littleton.
The suit has an ironic twist:
transgender people are allowed to marry members of the same sex under
Kelli Busey, a member of the Dallas
Transgender Advocates and Allies, said that the president's order
cleared few obstacles for transgender people. She pointed out that
only a handful of states recognize the altered documents of a
“Suppose a transgender person has
changed their documents to indicate their proper gender in one state
and their loved one is hospitalized in another state that
specifically does not recognize those changes and their new name?”
Altering documents remains a major
obstacle to equality, Busey said.
“There are many states that have no
specific laws denying or allowing this process and allow transgender
people to 'fly under the radar',” she explained.
Obama's order does not specifically
address either of these issues, but both women agreed it was a
positive step forward for the LGBT community.
The Department of Health and Human
Services is expected to implement Obama's directive over the next six