Advocates seek to ‘educate’ legislators in Harrisburg in wake of anti-trans bill

Advocates seek to ‘educate’ legislators in Harrisburg in wake of anti-trans bill

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A group of trans people and allies traveled to Harrisburg this week to raise awareness among lawmakers about trans issues, in light of proposed legislation that would limit or ban public funding for medically necessary trans services.

The state currently funds a wide range of medically necessary trans services for eligible Pennsylvanians, including gender-confirmation surgery, hysterectomy, hormonal therapy, breast reconstruction, penectomy, vaginoplasty, mastectomy, vaginal dilation and release of labial adhesions. But H.B. 1933 would end funding for those services within the state’s medical-assistance program and Children’s Health Insurance Program. The bill was scheduled for “second consideration” by the state House as of presstime.

“We talked, we educated and we engaged state reps around H.B. 1933 and the needs that we have as trans Pennsylvanians,” said Naiymah A. Sanchez, transgender education and advocacy coordinator for the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “It was a collective effort.”

The Republican-controlled state House hasn’t permitted public hearings on H.B. 1933. But Sanchez said legislators heard directly from trans people on Dec. 5.

“The whole day was impactful,” Sanchez noted.

Participants included five trans residents of Morris Home, Pennsylvania Youth Congress, GALAEI, ACLU of Pennsylvania and executive directors from several LGBT community centers in Pennsylvania.

Sanchez said the experience was “empowering” for trans participants. “We were lifting their narratives,” she said.

Trans advocates are planning a return trip to Harrisburg to meet with state senators in the near future. “The efforts will continue,” Sanchez said.

Sanchez also commended state Rep. Brian Sims (D) for being “very supportive” of the educational efforts.

On Facebook, Pennsylvania Youth Congress called H.B. 1933 “one of the most transphobic bills in modern state history.”

But its sponsor, state Rep. Jesse Topper (R), said in a Nov. 30 email that “many in the medical community feel [trans services] are not medically necessary.”

Chris Bartlett, executive director of the William Way LGBT Center, said he was “honored” to participate in the educational effort.

“I was honored to spend the day in Harrisburg on Tuesday with esteemed transgender leaders, including Naiymah Sanchez of the ACLU of Pennsylvania and Christian Lovehall of GALAEI,” Bartlett said in an email. “Under their leadership, we met with numerous [state] representatives and their staff to express the ways that H.B. 1933 would deeply and negatively impact the lives of transgender Pennsylvanians, their families, friends and communities. I was moved to tears by many stories, as I saw clearly how this hateful bill would leave transgender citizens who receive health benefits through medical assistance or the Children’s Health Insurance Program in deep jeopardy.”

Bartlett is a longtime supporter of universal health care.

“As someone who has fought for universal health care my whole life, I’m incensed that some [state] representatives would play politics with people’s lives,” he added. “The fact that trans people are the current targets of such hateful legislation means to me that we all need to be spending more time in Harrisburg to keep an eye on things and fight alongside our trans siblings.”

In a related matter, trans attorney Julie Chovanes warned of legal action if H.B. 1933 is enacted into law.

“Last year, Trans-Help brought a lawsuit against the commonwealth to ensure trans health care is covered under Medicaid. We won. Trans health-care coverage is a matter of right under the Constitution and the Americans with Disabilities Act,” Chovanes said in an email.

Chovanes added: “If the commonwealth now attempts to pass this bill, it will also be doing so knowing it has already agreed its actions are illegal. We will bring that exact point to the attention of the court, if this bill proceeds to enactment. We have no doubt the court will hold the commonwealth to its prior admission that attempting to limit trans people’s medical care violates our rights.”

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