‘Trans Town Hall’ addresses healthcare, civil rights

Thursday, April 25, 2019 - 10:45pm

On Wednesday night, nearly 25 Washtenaw community members gathered at Corner Health Center in Ypsilanti for a “Trans Town Hall” with state Sen. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, and state Rep. Yousef Rabhi, D-Ann Arbor. The town hall was organized by Rackham stude

On Wednesday night, nearly 25 Washtenaw community members gathered at Corner Health Center in Ypsilanti for a “Trans Town Hall” with state Sen. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, and state Rep. Yousef Rabhi, D-Ann Arbor. The town hall was organized by Rackham stude Buy this photo
Alexis Rankin/Daily

On Wednesday night, nearly 25 Washtenaw community members gathered at Corner Health Center in Ypsilanti for a Trans Town Hall with state Sen. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, and state Rep. Yousef Rabhi, D-Ann Arbor. The town hall was organized by Rackham student Vidhya Aravind, a local trans community activist.

“There is a little bit of disconnect between issues that trans people I know face and the people that, generally, you hear from in office, Aravind said. I wanted to put together something so that we can have our local elected representatives hear from us.

Both Irwin and Rabhi expressed at the beginning of the town hall they were primarily there to learn. Neither made more than a few minor interjections to ask clarifying questions or provide insight into the legislative process. They spent the majority of their time listening to community members’ stories.

“Please give us a trail of breadcrumbs,” Irwin said.

Irwin and Rabhi both requested the trans attendees share anecdotal evidence of how their gender identity conflicts with components of the legislative process. Only once armed with that evidence, they said, could they compel their colleagues to invoke large-scale change.

The town hall began with a conversation surrounding healthcare. Rackham student Monica Lewis explained how she believes the laws regarding transgender healthcare still carry remnants of their antiquated past.

“This organization didn’t emerge out of a vacuum one day like, ‘Oh, we should have an organization that tries to help trans people out of the kindness of our heart,’” Lewis said. “It emerged out of a history that’s much more troubling.”

Lewis told the group that transgender healthcare standards, as they exist today, were initially known as the Harry Benjamin International Gender Dysphoria Association Standards of Care for Gender Identity Disorders. In the 1970s, Lewis said trans people were made to abandon their families if they wanted to transition.

Lewis said trans healthcare now comes from World Professional Association for Transgender Health. She described WPATH as a “whittling down of some of the much more horrifying components” which predated it.

“Fortunately, that’s not the case anymore,” Lewis said. “Some of these more abhorrent elements have been extracted over time, but that’s essentially what WPATH is — It’s the Harry Benjamin standards that have been slowly made more and more presentable to a cis(gender) society that has become increasingly accepting of trans people, but it still holds onto this irreducible core where the proposition is that transness is a disease that needs to be cured.”

Lewis and other attendees shared personal difficulties they experienced, like needing expensive letters from therapists or extensive prior authorization paperwork in order to receive medical care. Hope Dundas, a physician’s assistant at Lansing’s Willow Health Center, called the process to receive care unethical.

Community members also described experiences of being frequently misgendered by physicians or receiving inadequate care. Washtenaw County resident Seth Best recalled a time his pharmacy refused to fill his prescription for testosterone.

Irwin and Rabhi both said they were going to have a conversation with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and Michigan Medicine to ensure fair treatment of transgender patients.

“When we’re saying, ‘healthcare is a human right,’ we have to remind people that’s a part of this conversation,” Rabhi said.

The town hall then transitioned into a conversation regarding civil rights for trans people. Attendees discussed the gendered treatment of homelessness and substance abuse. Aravind noticed, in her experience, trans women were often forced to reside in male-designated areas of homeless shelters.

“I think where the problem comes in homelessness is that so much of it ends up being faith-based,” Best said. “Because it’s faith-based, and it’s very much in Christian faith that these programs are in, then the discrimination is, ‘Well the Bible says.’”

Best said in those cases, trans people are simply turned away.

In contrast, Rabhi said capitalizing on conservative opinions may aid trans activism in other areas. This was evident when Aravind shared her name-change experience.

Though expensive, she she said she was able to change her name much quicker in Arkansas than in Michigan because Arkansas values individual freedoms more. This meant there was less red tape for Aravind to maneuver.

Irwin said a bipartisan approach stands the best chance of holding up in Michigan’s conservative legislature, particularly in regard to a push for gender-neutral bathrooms. The town hall compared the merits of taking the issue through the court system to pushing a bill through Congress. Rabhi concluded by saying an official change in the law deriving from the legislature would likely be most effective.

“We need to change this for the entire state,” Rabhi said.