ATLANTA (AP) — Two transgender women are suing the state of Georgia, saying they've been denied access to gender-affirming health care under its Medicaid program.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed the federal lawsuit Thursday in Atlanta on behalf of Shon Thomas and Gwendolyn Cheney. The suit says Georgia bans gender-affirming surgeries in violation of the U.S. Constitution, the Affordable Care Act and the Medicaid Act.
A spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Community Health, which is named as a defendant in the lawsuit, did not immediately respond Thursday to an email seeking comment on the lawsuit.
Many surgical treatments that are used to treat gender dysphoria are covered by Georgia Medicaid when they are used to treat non-transgender people for other conditions, the lawsuit says. Georgia's Medicaid exclusion “incorrectly characterizes their gender-confirming health care needs as ‘cosmetic’ and/or ‘experimental or investigational,’ when the medical community recognizes that they are effective treatments for gender dysphoria," the lawsuit says.
Thomas and Cheney, who both live in the Atlanta area, have been denied care that would be available to them if they weren't transgender, ACLU attorney Taylor Brown said in a news release.
“This is discrimination and it is against the law,” Brown said. "At a time when many in our country are having long overdue conversations about racial disparities in our health care system, it is important that the health care needs of Black transgender people, like Ms. Thomas and Ms. Cheney, are a part of that conversation.”
The ACLU says Georgia is one of 10 states that doesn't allow transgender adults to receive gender-affirming care under Medicaid.
The lawsuit seeks class action status and asks a judge to order Georgia to stop enforcing the exclusion and to order state health officials to provide Medicaid coverage to those who are eligible for transition-related surgical care.
Cheney, 60, said the denial of care has kept her from living a full life.
“Having access to this care would give me a chance to actually live as who I am,” Cheney said in the release. "I want to be all that I can be and I can’t be that with gender dysphoria. It’s a chance to have a normal life without depression and anxiety.”
Thomas, 45, said it seems that transgender people in the South are “only tolerated not accepted.”
“Even when it comes to health care, we are only given the bare minimum to exist," she said. “It keeps me depressed. I think about it all the time, and it feels like there is no way out.”