Lives In The Balance

One of the major issues Transgender people face is access to healthcare. Time and again I hear the stories of doctors who are disrespectful or flat out decline to treat a patient because they are Transgender.

There are plenty of insurance nightmares – I’ve personally been denied coverage back in the day because “men don’t take estrogen.”

On the somewhat humorous side was a Trans woman who was being treated in a hospital post transition when years before, she had been there pre-transition. When she was admitted, her wristband reflected her former name and when she asked that it be corrected, she was told that it couldn’t be done.

Try as she may, whoever she asked refused to change the name on her hospital wristband to her correct and legal name. Since the name was attached to her Social Security Number from her previous visit…there was nothing they could do…right? Until our patient learned to “speak the language of the hospital” when she pointed to the offending wristband and told a doctor; “HE doesn’t have health insurance…SHE does.

The wristband was changed.

Just a few months ago a Trans guy in North Texas had his I.D. and gender marker changed and when he went for top surgery, doctors discovered a form of breast cancer that was both life-threatening and also found almost exclusively in women. Since he was a guy, he would not be covered. Really? Was it going to become necessary to change his gender back to female just to get life saving care? Fortunately, common sense eventually prevailed and after an appeal the insurance company approved treatment.

This has to stop.

People wonder why Transgender people don’t trust doctors or others entrusted with our medical care…the reasons are many and there is a lot of work yet to do to in order to gain our trust.

Some amazing strides are being made by hospitals here in North Texas like Children’s Medical Center of Dallas and U.T. SouthWestern Medical Center. Dr. Roberto de la Cruz is making a difference at Parkland in treating Transgender people with dignity and care.

But let’s never forget how bad it can get.

It was 20 years ago today – August 7th, 1995 – It was a Monday when Tyra Hunter was on her way to work as a hairdresser in the Washington D.C. area. She was a passenger in a car which was involved in an accident at the corner of 50th and C street.

Tyra had been transitioned since the age of 14 – she was now 24. Witnesses to the accident pulled Tyra and the driver of the car from the smoking wreckage when fire department paramedics arrived to render aid.

The male firefighter treating Tyra cut open her pants leg and discovered she had male genitalia. It was at this point that the firefighter later identified as Adrian Williams backed off from Tyra who was semi-conscious, in pain and gasping for breath. One witness recalled Williams as saying: “This bitch ain’t no girl…it’s a N*****, he’s got a dick.”

In spite of bystanders pleas to treat Tyra, Williams refused. Instead he joked with other firefighters as Tyra lay in the street…her life ebbing.

Critical minutes ticked away as the firefighters tried to “one-up” each other with snappy one-liners. (Graphic language that I will not include here.)

Eventually, an EMS supervisor arrived and resumed treatment. Tyra was rushed to DC General Hospital.

The horror of this incident continued as Tyra Hunter was refused care by a doctor at DC General Hospital and at 5:20pm on August 7th, 1995, Tyra Hunter died of blunt force trauma…but mostly from neglect.

Over 2,000 people attended her funeral on August 12th.

On December 11th of 1998, a jury awarded Tyra’s mother, Margie Hunter, $2.9 million in damages. The suit alleged that the D.C. Fire Department personnel called to the scene of Tyra’s accident made derogatory comments about Tyra’s personal appearance and withdrew emergency medical treatment. Additionally, Margie Hunter alleged that Tyra suffered from neglect at D.C. General Hospital contributing to her death.

Experts at trial testified that had Tyra received proper care at either stage of treatment, she had an 86% chance of surviving the accident.

Adding further insult, the case was later settled for $1.75 million and none of the firefighters at the scene were disciplined – matter of fact, Adrian Williams was later promoted.

Today, in D.C. the Tyra Hunter Drop-In-Center is named for her and the sensitivity training given to DC fire personnel is named in her honor.

I share this with you in the hopes that it is never repeated. Tyra Hunter was an innocent victim of Transphobia – it’s time that medical schools include Transgender healthcare as part of their curriculum so that we are not a mystery…or a curiosity…or worse, the butt of jokes.

Let us never forget.

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