ATLANTA — The American Civil Liberties Union today filed a lawsuit on behalf of two transgender women who have been denied access to gender-affirming care under Georgia Medicaid. The lawsuit filed on behalf of Shon Thomas and Gwendolyn Cheney claims that Georgia’s ban on gender-affirming surgeries violates the U.S. Constitution, the Affordable Care Act, and the Medicaid Act.
“Ms. Thomas and Ms. Cheney have each been denied health care because of Georgia’s unconstitutional and unlawful ban on gender-affirming care for transgender people,” said Taylor Brown, staff attorney with the ACLU LGBTQ & HIV Project. “If they were not transgender, Georgia Medicaid would cover the procedures they seek. This is discrimination and it is against the law. 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.”
Georgia is one of 10 states that bans transgender adults from receiving gender-affirming care under Medicaid. Approximately 5,000 transgender Georgians are on Medicaid. Black and transgender people use Medicaid at rates higher than the general population.
Thomas, 45, and Cheney, 60, each live in the greater Atlanta area. While both have known they are women from a young age, each has had inconsistent access to health insurance and struggled to find medical providers who have experience working with transgender people.
“Oftentimes I have felt like giving up because I do not feel complete,” said Cheney. “I don’t feel like who I know I am. It has stopped me from living a full life. My life has not been a free one, it has been hard and difficult. I don’t want to just exist. I want to live. I want to be out in the world and be accepted. Having access to this care would give me a chance to actually live as who I am. 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.”
“Not having access to health care has made me really depressed because it’s like down here in the South, we are only tolerated not accepted,” said Thomas. “Even when it comes to health care, we are only given the bare minimum to exist. It keeps me depressed, I think about it all the time, and it feels like there is no way out. This case, fighting for my health, is the whole world to me, my whole life. If we are successful, it would mean everything to me.”
The lawsuit was filed in federal court by the Jon L. Stryker and Slobodan Randjelović LGBTQ & HIV Project, the ACLU of Georgia, and King & Spalding LLP.