Transgender rights group sues state over care limitation

Published 7:49 am Friday, December 18, 2015

ST. PAUL — A Minnesota gay rights advocacy group and a transgender man are seeking to overturn the state’s bar on public health programs covering gender reassignment procedures in a lawsuit filed Thursday, arguing that ban treats transgender men and women as inferior.

OutFront Minnesota challenged the state’s more than 10-year-old law on behalf of Evan Thomas, a 63-year-old who began identifying as a man in 2013 but was denied surgery to remove breasts earlier this year. Thomas is on Medical Assistance, one of the state’s subsidized health care programs for low-income residents. He was granted a legal name and gender change in July.

The organization argues the ban on public funds going toward gender reassignment surgeries and therapies unfairly singles out residents with gender dysphoria, a condition in which people feel the opposite of their biological sex. OutFront said it’s unjust that a woman suffering a different condition would have a breast removal surgery or hysterectomy covered through the state, while a person born as a woman suffering gender dysphoria would be denied the same treatment.

Email newsletter signup

“When a law makes state financial assistance available for medically necessary surgery in some instances, but denies state assistance for that same or substantially equivalent surgery when the purpose is to treat gender dysphoria, such a law is perceived as a state-sanctioned badge of inferiority, and further fuels the stigma affecting the transgender community,” the lawsuit filed in Ramsey County District Court said.

The complaint sued Minnesota’s new commissioner at the Department of Human Services, which oversees the state’s public health care programs. The department said in a statement that it’s reviewing the lawsuit.

OutFront Minnesota is an advocacy group that helped to block a ballot measure in 2012 that would have banned same-sex marriage in the state’s constitution, then led the effort to legalize same-sex marriage through the Legislature the following year.

Minnesota covered gender reassignment surgeries through public health care plans from 1977 until 1998, when the Legislature first put the ban in place. The fight to restore coverage of those surgeries is part of a major push among gay and transgender rights organizations nationwide.

At the federal level, Medicare reversed its ban on those surgeries being covered last year and nine states have dropped their own bans. In California and Massachusetts, transgender advocates have brought lawsuits demanding that prison inmates be provided hormone treatment or sex-reassignment surgery. And Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced in August that city health benefits would pay for sex reassignment surgeries of public employees.