Yes on 3 is a healthy choice

Referendum on transgender rights affects more than bathroom access

ALL OF US know that accessing basic health care and emergency medical care treatment is essential to taking care of ourselves and our families. This November, voters will have a unique opportunity to uphold a Massachusetts state law that prohibits discrimination against transgender people in public accommodations, which includes hospitals and doctors’ offices.

Voting Yes on Question 3 this November means not only that all residents of Massachusetts are free to live their lives without the fear of discrimination, but that all of us – including transgender people – can live without fear of being turned away in moments of need.

In 2016, a bipartisan majority of state legislators voted in favor of protections for transgender people from discrimination in public places, such as restaurants, stores, and doctors’ offices – and yes, restrooms in those places. The “No” side tries to reduce these protections solely to restrooms and locker rooms, but Massachusetts’ existing nondiscrimination law is about so much more. Not only does it allow transgender people to simply go about their daily lives, it also ensures that they will not be turned away when seeking basic medical care. No one should experience harassment or discrimination in a doctor’s office or hospital, and this law ensures transgender people have the same basic protections as everyone else – to live their lives with safety, privacy and dignity.

Picture this: you’ve just moved to a new city and need to find a primary care doctor. You find a few that are in your insurance network and call to set up an appointment with one who’s accepting new patients. But once the receptionist finds out you’re transgender, you’re suddenly told the office is completely booked and your appointment is canceled.

Now picture this: you’re sitting at home, enjoying a quiet night when you start experiencing severe chest pain. You might decide to take aspirin or drink some water to see if it dissipates. It does not. You begin to get more concerned, so you call 911. The paramedics arrive at your door but when they see who you are, they refuse to help you, saying they can’t or won’t treat you because you are transgender.

These situations may be difficult to imagine if it’s never happened to you, but unfortunately discrimination against transgender people seeking basic medical care is all too common. What’s more, transgender people already face barriers to healthcare because of systemic discrimination. Nearly one third of transgender people do not have a regular doctor and report poor physical health. That’s 31 percent of transgender Americans who lack regular access to routine health care. The finding comes from a new nationwide poll by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. And, a different national survey conducted by Center for American Progress in 2017 found that 21 percent of transgender people report having a doctor use harsh or abusive language while treating them.

I’ve been practicing medicine in Massachusetts since 1982 and I’ve seen firsthand how the medical community has evolved in its understanding of LGBTQ people and how best to care for our diverse communities. We must do everything in our power to ensure no one faces barriers to quality healthcare. Medical providers agree that nondiscrimination protections for transgender people are crucial to ensuring the good public health of our state. That’s why healthcare experts like the Massachusetts Medical Society, Boston Children’s Hospital, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Fenway Health, Harvard Pilgrim, and Blue Cross Blue Shield are stalwart supporters of the Yes On 3 campaign to uphold the law.

Meet the Author
The No side is misleading voters by reducing a vote on Question 3 to a question about restrooms. We all value public safety – and we all value public health. Here in Massachusetts, we take care of each other and recognize that we all have a vested interest in making sure that our family members, friends, and neighbors are healthy, including our transgender loved ones. Healthy communities are strong communities, and voting Yes on Question 3 is a vote to ensure all people, including those who are transgender, are able to go about their daily lives, including access to basic medical care and emergency services without facing discrimination. Vote Yes because we need more compassion, respect, and kindness, and less fear, intimidation, and discrimination.

Dr. Valerie Fein-Zachary has been practicing in Massachusetts since 1982. She works in the Department of Radiology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston and is an assistant professor of Radiology at Harvard Medical School.