LGBTQ and Labor Orgs Launch Trans Month of Action at PSU

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By Erin Rook, PQ Monthly
A coalition of LGBTQ organizations and labor unions will launch a "Trans Month of Action" tomorrow, March 5, at Portland State University. The event, called "Transitioning to Better Healthcare," is part of a national effort to advance healthcare equality through union protections. “Many of our members have struggled through their unions to get the medically-necessary healthcare they need, and their struggles have forged a path that has led us to so many recent victories,†says Ben Marston, president of Oregon Pride at Work, a constituency affiliate of the AFL-CIO, and member of UNITE HERE Local 8, in a release. Marston, who identifies as gender non-conforming, says that Oregon Pride at Work has built health coverage protections for trans workers into its union contracts to ensure that their health care needs are met, whether or not their employers are among the growing number who now offer trans-inclusive coverage. While the month of action focuses on educating and encouraging unions to advocate for healthcare equality, Marston hopes that unions can set an example for non-union leaders to follow. "As someone in the labor movement, we are motivated by the belief that ‘an injury to one is an injury to all,’†Marston says. “Denying medically-necessary healthcare to transgender people does real injury to workers and the labor movement has an obligation to push for more fairness on this issue.†Oregon has risen to the forefront of the fight for trans healthcare equality in recent months, with the Oregon Insurance Division's bulletin prohibiting discrimination by private insurers, the decision by Oregon Health Plan to begin covering trans-related healthcare needs for children in 2014, and the State of Oregon's agreement to extend equal benefits to its employees in the settlement of Esquivel v. Oregon. “Oregon has made a lot of progress on removing trans exclusions in healthcare. But it is critical that we continue to make sure all people have access to the medical care they need,†says Maura Kelly, a spokesperson of Pride at Work Oregon and assistant professor of sociology at PSU, and member of the PSU AAUP, in a release. “Events like this will help educate our communities about this serious injustice and leverage the power of labor unions to commit to bargaining for trans-inclusive healthcare for their members.†While the law is increasingly on trans Oregonians side, inclusive health insurance policies take the burden of off already marginalized and disempowered patients. According to a 2011 study by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, 28 percent of transgender and gender non-conforming people postpone medical care out of fear of discrimination. And of those who take their chances, 19 percent are denied care outright. The kick-off event will take place from 7 to 9 p.m. at PSU's Academic and Student Rec. Center, Room 001 (1800 SW 6th Ave.), and will include an introduction to transgender issues; remarks from tash shatz (trans justice manager at Basic Rights Oregon), Daylen Gonzales (from TransActive Education & Advocacy), and Shellea Allen (co-vice president of Pride at Work); a panel of trans PSU students speaking about their healthcare experiences; updated information on recent developments in Oregon; and an overview of continuing actions. The Portland event is sponsored by Pride at Work Oregon; Basic Rights Oregon; TransActive; PSU Department of Sociology; PSU Queer Resource Center; PSU Department of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies; PSU AAUP; ASPSU; PSUFA; Unite Here Local 8; SEIU Local 503; PSU Local 089; SEIU 503 Lavender Caucus; and Oregon AFL CIO. Trans Month of Action is sponsored by the Center for American Progress, Pride at Work, the Service Employees International Union, the Transgender Law Center, the National Center for Transgender Equality.