A Divided Response to Transgender Persons at Georgetown’s Campus

Alexa Rodriguez

One step forward, one step back. This is the two-step experienced by the trans community at Georgetown University’s campus as its affiliated hospital faces a discrimination complaint at the same time that the Washington, DC, school recently instituted a policy to let transitioning students change their names.

Alexa Rodriguez, a trans woman, filed a complaint under D.C.’s gender identity-inclusive Human Rights Act against MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, which allegedly denied her breast implant surgery in May. The Washington Blade reported:

“[Rodriguez] said the refusal came on May 8, five months after one of the hospital’s highly regarded breast surgeons, Dr. Troy Pittman, examined her and cleared her for the surgery contingent upon approval for coverage of the procedure by her health insurance provider. . .

“Much to her dismay, Rodriguez said a hospital employee who schedules Dr. Pittman’s appointments told her by phone on May 8 that the hospital was no longer taking transgender women for treatment or surgery.”

Rodriguez said a female trans friend was also denied services that week, after the friend had been asked by a scheduler whether she was biological woman or not. Ruby Corado, who heads the LGBT community center “Casa Ruby,” in DC, reported at least two other trans women denied breast surgery at the hospital. Both Rodriguez and Corado know trans women who received breast implants at the hospital as recently as January.

MedStar Georgetown University Hospital spokesperson Marianne Worley denied any discrimination, but added the hospital does not provide comprehensive gender transition services and prefers not to do them in a “one off manner.” Rodriguez is receiving integrated care at the renowned Whitman-Walker Health, which frequently refers patients to Georgetown for treatment, according to communications director Shawn Jain. Rodriguez was one of those referred. The relationship between Whitman-Walker and Georgetown is in question because the hospital’s statement will “present some very real and tangible access to care issues,” according to Jain.

Worley’s follow up statement noted the hospital’s Catholic identity and its adherence to the bishops’ healthcare directives. This is significant, as The Blade reports:

“One source familiar with the hospital who spoke on condition of not being identified said some members of the medical staff at the hospital reported hearing that transgender-related surgery was discontinued earlier this year after complaints were lodged by conservative Catholic officials affiliated with Georgetown University.”

Legally, Georgetown University Hospital’s position seems precarious, even if claiming religious exemptions, if it offers similar services to cisgender patients because it is accountable to public accommodations laws in D.C.:

“Brian Markovitz, a civil rights attorney who has represented clients in cases before the D.C. Office of Human Rights. . .said the fact that Whitman-Walker handled the gender transition-related aspects of Rodriguez’s medical treatment, which Georgetown says it may not have the expertise to do, could undermine a claim by Georgetown that it was legally justified in refusing to perform the surgery.

“” ‘They could be running afoul of the Human Rights Act because they are providing implants for cancer patients and other people, and because they’re doing that and they’re not going to do it for this individual they’re running the risk of liability,’ Markovitz said.”

Markovitz said this could snowball into a First Amendment case if the hospital claims religious liberty exemptions, already a heated issue for D.C. in recent months.

Georgetown students celebrate on National Coming Out Day

Meanwhile, across campus, the LGBTQ Resource Center announced on Facebook that name changes are now accessible to students. In the statement, the Center reports:

“In partnership with the Office of the University Registrar, we are glad to announce that all students may now request a chosen name under their My Access profile, which is different from the legal name, if they wish to do so. They do not need any permissions, or fulfill any other requirements to avail of this. They may also request to have their “middle name” removed if it has gender identifying markers.”

This newly selected name will be used on all non-legal documents, including, importantly, class rosters. The Center thanked senior administrators as well as students “whose courage in being visible makes all the difference.” Georgetown University was the first Catholic college to welcome openly trans students two years ago.

Georgetown University has been at the forefront of Catholic education’s increasing welcome of LGBTQ community members, as the name change implementation suggests. If the University’s affiliated hospital has discriminated against trans women, specifically over concerns about Catholic identity, they should not only look to the law but to the words of Catholic leaders like England’s Monsignor Keith Barltrop who clearly called for the church to support individual’s choices to transition, as Bondings 2.0  reported last week.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

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