Discrimination in CHIP Renewal is Hurtful to Transgender Youth. Shame on Our State Senators.

My name is Carrie Santoro, and I want to tell you about my son Finn.

Finn loves hiking and exploring nature.

His favorite holiday is Valentine’s Day, and he hates to see people in pain.

He is Student Council President, loves to read, and bemoans homework.

He has a little sister who would swear that he hung the moon and stars just for her.

Loving and nurturing other people is woven into the fabric of who he is. He is a ray of sunshine that makes our corner of the world a brighter place.

He is also transgender.

When Finn told us he was a boy at the end of the third grade, we supported him during his transition to live openly as male. The difference we saw in him was unbelievable. He did better in school, he was happier at home, he talked about his future, and he absolutely glowed, as the way he saw himself was finally reconciled with who everyone else saw on the outside.

Two years ago, we had our first appointment with a pediatric endocrinologist. The medical options available — which, make no mistake, can be life saving for trans youth — were largely not covered by insurance and incredibly cost prohibitive.

Luckily, federal legal protections expanded and eventually trickled down to states, and enough doctors, patients, and parents of patients successfully (and painfully) appealed insurance company denials of these services to set precedent that makes denials in Pennsylvania rare.

The state Senate’s recent passage of House Bill 1388, which renews the Children’s Health Insurance Program with a provision that discriminates against trans youth, threatens that progress.

Senator Don White, the author of the trans discrimination provision, chose to hold hostage 176,000 children insured through CHIP, fabricating a choice between them and care for my son, in a publicity stunt meant to turn people against each other for his own political gain.

For reasons lost on most, Senator White chose to politicize Finn’s existence to sow discord among those of us who have more in common than not, to demonize my son, and to turn other parents and, subsequently, their children against him.

As for the other 33 Republicans, including my state senator, Patrick Browne, and three Democrats who voted to advance a bill that says my son is less human and says appealing to the very worst of human nature for cheap political points is worth sacrificing him on the altar of your own ambition, shame on you.

Shame on you for stoking fear and prejudice and deciding to vote based on political expediency rather than public service or even facts.

Shame on you for being more concerned about re-election and intra-party political promotion than advocating for what is right and just.

Considering Pennsylvania legislators are the second highest paid in the country — topped only by California — I understand you have a lot to lose. But we have more.

You could have stood on solid moral ground and told your colleagues and constituents that the American College of Physicians, the American Medical Association, and the American Psychological Association are just a few of the many organizations that agree gender-transition services are medically necessary for children like my son.

You could have eased their economic concerns by sharing studies like the 2015 analysis by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health that show this care is cost-effective for insurance companies, as transgender people make up a small segment of the population and gender-affirming services actually reduce patients’ future health expenses.

You could have chosen to use your station as a source for change in public understanding of the trans community. You could have publicly called this amendment what it is — hateful, unnecessary, and absurd — and exposed the political motivations behind it. Instead, you continue to fail us. All of us.

Who will be Harrisburg’s next target for exclusions? Will they follow the national model of going after kids with asthma? Cancer? Perhaps cystic fibrosis? Where will they draw the line? The precedent set by this bill will not only affect transgender children nor will it only affect children insured by CHIP.

Bills like HB 1388 that include hateful and exclusionary provisions are not based in economics or medical science nor are they for the greater good. They are meant to call into question the humanity of children like my son and perpetuate the myth that they are less deserving of needed health care.

Our children deserve better. My son deserves better.

Carrie Santoro writes from Lehigh County.

My transgender son is trying to find his way. Politicians aren’t helping.

By Ellen*

I’ll never forget when my son, Jacob, told me that he is transgender. He was 13 years old at the time, and we were out for dinner. As he ate his lobster, he looked at me and said, “Mom, I’m in the wrong shell,” as tears welled in his eyes.

Since his decision to live openly as male, I have done everything that I can to support his healthcare needs, both physical and emotional. We found a pediatrician who has a well-deserved reputation for being supportive of transgender kids, and she has been wonderful. The Mazzoni Center in Philadelphia has also been an irreplaceable resource. He is now 15 and has the healthcare support that he needs.

His social isolation, though, has been a greater struggle. When Jacob came out, he was attending a brick-and-mortar charter school. Being an adolescent is hard enough, but being a transgender teenager is incredibly difficult. We all know that teens can be abominable to one another, and his classmates did not understand Jacob’s experience and gave no indication of interest in understanding what it’s like to be transgender. He had one friend who outed him to others who did not know that he’s trans, which compounded his social anxiety. He now attends a cyber charter school. He has become introverted, uncomfortable with other kids, and friendship with others his age is very difficult for him.

Philadelphia Trans March, October 7, 2017 (photos: Rick Urbanowski Photography)

I celebrate and am grateful for the many trans kids who are able to live their lives openly with support from their families and their friends. I want my son to live the fullest life possible as the person he is, and I hope we’re moving toward a day when transgender people in America are treated with the same respect and dignity as everyone else.

Politicians compound the challenges for transgender youth when they actively pursue discriminatory policies against the trans community. When elected officials use transgender people as a wedge to score cheap political points, it feeds a negative narrative about the lives of trans people, and that narrative is felt acutely by young people.

The Pennsylvania Senate recently engaged in this very kind of underhanded behavior when it passed a bill to renew the Children’s Health Insurance Program with a provision that prohibits CHIP coverage of transition-related surgical procedures. This isn’t a benign policy discussion about how expansive CHIP should be. This is an effort to diminish the humanity of trans youth. If it becomes law, this bill would deny coverage of medically necessary and sometimes life-saving medical care for transgender young people. It feels like nothing less than dehumanization of my son and kids like him.

Jacob and I are lucky that we are able to access private health insurance. Unlike our state senators, though, I have a basic level of empathy, and I don’t need the experience of using CHIP to be able to relate to any parent of a transgender child who just wants the best healthcare coverage possible for their kid.

The teenage years are fraught with challenges. And transgender teens face unique hurdles that cisgender kids do not. They don’t need politicians making things worse.

*Ellen and her son live in Lehigh County. She writes using pseudonyms for both herself and her son to protect their privacy.

Introducing Naiymah Sanchez

Naiymah Sanchez joined the ACLU-PA in January 2017 as the transgender advocacy coordinator. She is a proud female of transgender experience and previously worked as the coordinator of the Trans-Health information project for five years providing education and advocacy services for transgender individuals in Philadelphia. Naiymah has worked to help the Philadelphia prison system become more PREA (Prison Rape elimination act) compliant since 2015. Part of Naiymah’s initiative is to build coalitions to better serve transgender individuals and the injustice they face. The following is the transcript of an interview conducted by Julie Zaebst, director or the Clara Bell Duvall Reproductive Freedom Project.

Julie Zaebst: Naiymah you joined the ACLU of Pennsylvania in a brand new position as our first Transgender Advocacy Coordinator. What are you going to be doing during your first couple of months on the job?

Naiymah Sanchez: For my first couple of months, I will be touring throughout Pennsylvania, hosting community discussions, also Know Your Rights workshops, and board trainings for ACLU chapters. I want to hear what the concerns are for my community members in different parts of the state and find out how the ACLU of Pennsylvania can work together with community members to make a difference.

JZ: You were the co-chair of Creating Change, the largest LGBTQ organizing conference in the country that took place in Philly a couple of weeks ago now. What are you taking away from that conference?

NS: This year Creating Change was different from the four previous Creating Change conferences that I have been a part of. I was able to attend the conference not as a conference goer but being on the organizing side or welcoming side. But one thing that I have taken away from the conference is the dire need of connecting as community. There were 4,100 people that was registered for the conference. I connected with many of the transgender community members, just letting them know that the ACLU of Pennsylvania has made a commitment to having transgender representation on staff in the state and also transgender or non-binary representation on their board.

JZ: Absolutely. What do you think are some of the biggest obstacles to transgender rights and justice right now?

NS: We’ve seen though discussion here in Philadelphia that criminal justice reform is a main issue and also non-discrimination when it comes to public accommodations, housing, and health insurance. We’re seeing that as a big issue. And that’s just from having a conversation with individuals here in Philadelphia. Ideally within these next couple of months having a conversation with transgender community members throughout the state, we can see if there are any intersections of issues, if the issues overlap or if are there other issues that we at the ACLU of Pennsylvania can tackle.

JZ: What, or who, inspires you to do this work?

NS: Being a transgender woman of color and being subjected to stigma is what brought me to this work. Who? Actually, I can’t pinpoint a single person. There’s many people who have had a great impact on me continuing to be an advocate or activist. Knowing about my ancestors like Marsha P. Johnson or Sylvia Rivera, also Miss Major as being one of my elders who is still alive. Jaci Adams here in Philadelphia or Charlene Arcila who had the movement here and was working towards equality here in Philadelphia. But being just a transgender woman of color, being stigmatized and also not wanting for the younger generation what I had to go through is really what keeps me going.

JZ: And what do you do when you’re not at your paid job or wearing your activist hat?

NS: My activist hat is always on. That is one thing about me. I need to learn to sometimes take my hat off, but there was a time when nobody was there for me and I don’t want it to be a time that no one is there for someone, you know? And if I could be of assistance to any issue or barrier or conflict or whatever, I’m going to try my best to be that person. But when I’m on my free time I just relax with my animals, my kitty and my dogs. So that’s what I do.

JZ: Great. Thank you. We’re so excited to have you on board here.

NS: And I’m excited to be here.