US: ACLU Sues St. Joseph Health for Discrimination Against Transgender Patient

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EUREKA — The ACLU Foundation of Northern California, the ACLU Foundation of Southern California and the law firm Rukin Hyland & Riggin LLP today filed a lawsuit against St. Joseph Health Northern California for denying care to a transgender patient.

Filed on behalf of Oliver Knight, the suit argues that withholding medical care from a patient because he is transgender violates California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act.

Knight, 29, is a transgender man who was scheduled to receive a hysterectomy in August of 2017 at St. Joseph Hospital in Eureka. Minutes before the scheduled surgery, Knight’s doctor informed him it had been canceled and would not be rescheduled because it was a Catholic hospital.

“The refusal of St. Joseph to allow a doctor to perform a medically necessary procedure because the patient is transgender is discriminatory,” said Jessica Riggin, a partner at Rukin Hyland & Riggin LLP. “This is a hospital that is open to the general public so even though it’s religiously affiliated, it’s illegal for them to turn away someone based on gender identity. Everyone should be able to get the care they need.”

St. Joseph regularly allows hysterectomies for patients who are not transgender. Knight’s medical records show the decision to cancel the surgery was based on an “ethics assessment” completed by a reverend with no medical training.

“Gender affirming care is lifesaving and medically necessary,” said Elizabeth Gill, a senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Northern California. “Transgender people are part of our community, our workplaces, and our neighborhoods and they, just like everyone else, deserve to get the health care they need.”

On the day of the scheduled surgery, Knight was admitted to the hospital and prepared for surgery. Many of the procedures caused him great anxiety. Hospital staff refused his request to wear a blue gown instead of a pink gown, telling him he was receiving a “female” surgery, and he was misgendered by the staff, even though he told hospital staff his pronouns and his records identify him as male.

Knight was hesitant to go to another hospital because he would be farther away from home and unfamiliar with the staff, and it would increase the burden on him and his family. But he eventually got the surgery at Mad River Community Hospital in Arcata. The delay caused a disruption to his life and a great deal of anxiety. Read more via ACLU

Read this blog post by Oliver Knight: Catholic Bishops Stopped My Surgery Because I’m Transgender

After years of working to affirm my identity in a world where transgender people are questioned constantly about their decisions, I felt hopeful as I arrived for the surgery I had waited so long for. I was 27, and I would finally be closer to calling my body home.

Since I was a kid, I’ve felt like my body didn’t match my soul. I felt uncomfortable in clothes. I felt disgusting when I showered. Everything felt wrong, but it took me a while to figure out why.

Once I discovered that I am a man, I went to my doctor to start the process of medically transitioning. I began taking testosterone. I had a double mastectomy. The next step was a hysterectomy.

My surgery was scheduled for Aug. 30, 2017, at St. Joseph Hospital in Eureka. It’s the only hospital in the area, and I was so excited that my community offered transgender care. I could get the operation close to home and then recover with my loved ones.

I had a pre-op appointment on Aug. 24 that went smoothly, and I followed all the instructions to prepare for my surgery. Read more via ACLU