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Transgender health care should be about public health, not politics

On Sunday, the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) will strip Medicaid coverage of gender-affirming care for 9,000 transgender Floridians. As a transgender woman, the thought of health care being ripped from my community makes me sick to my stomach. It wasn’t too long ago that I myself was on black-market hormones due to not being able to access gender-affirming care. I remember well the fear of not knowing what I was taking. The dangers that presented still haunt me to this day. Is it not clear the detrimental harm this will do to an already marginalized community — or is that the goal?

As a proud, native Floridian, I’ve always heard this phrase “Free Florida.” But free for who? Never before have we seen such politicization of the transgender experience. Radical politicians like Ron DeSantis are strong-arming the Legislature and state agencies to further their political ambitions. The ban on sports participation for transgender youth, fueled by bigoted language and the demonization of kids. The “don’t say gay” law, propelled by fear-mongering about the transgender community. Recent memos from the Department of Education and the Department of Health that seem to stake out a state position that transgender people are not even real. These tactics of demonizing, fear mongering and spreading misinformation about a community who is already marginalized as a political weapon to garner votes is pathetic — and dangerous.

It’s true that the experiences of transgender people aren’t widely understood. Many people have preconceived notions and biases despite never having met a transgender person. But it’s important to remember, transgender people are human. We have hopes, dreams, aspirations, and fears. We deserve to live full, happy lives. We are your neighbors, family members, colleagues, and friends. If you don’t understand our community, ask questions. Befriend a transgender person. Do research. Listen. Learn. We deserve respect like everyone else. Many of the same people who are pushing for a ban on gender-affirming care have never even met someone whom this would directly affect.

I’m sure we all can agree: health care should remain between medical providers and their patients, not politicians. The country’s major medical and mental health associations recognize the critical importance of gender-affirming care. What we’re seeing here is not public health; it’s politics.

Health care is a basic human right and should be accessible to everyone. Without access to health care, we will continue to see a rise in the rates of anxiety, depression and suicide in the transgender community. The U.S. Transgender Survey (USTS), the largest survey of transgender people in the U.S. to date, found that 81.7% of respondents reported seriously thinking about suicide at some point in their lifetimes and 40.4% reported attempting suicide at some point in their lifetimes.

We’re in unprecedented times. Basic human rights like access to health care and bodily autonomy are being stripped away across the country. I yearn for a world that sees people as people and celebrates our differences and unique needs. I want you to imagine something for a moment: health care access being taken from you or your family in the matter of a couple of days. How would that feel? How would you navigate that? That feeling you got by simply imagining that is reality for more than 9,000 transgender Floridians on Sunday, Aug. 21.

Nikole Parker is the director of transgender equality for Equality Florida.

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