Stop the hostility toward N.J.'s transgender community | Editorial

Times of Trenton Editorial Board

A package of bills working its way through the state Legislature recognizes a grim reality: In a recent nationwide survey, more than half of all transgender students report they have been harassed at school, and nearly one-third of transgender employees say they have lost their jobs or been demoted because of their identity.

The Assembly Human Services Committee recently heard testimony from witnesses who shared harrowing tales of discrimination at school, in the workplace and in the doctor's office. Then members approved four measures addressing such matters as health insurance and social services for transgender individuals.

One proposal would update the Garden State's health insurance laws that would bar commercial plans and Medicaid from denying services on the basis of gender identity or expression, NJ Spotlight reported.

Another would to create a task force to help identify and reduce barriers to equal treatment - legal and societal - for transgender individuals and their families.

Sponsored by Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen) and her colleague Tim Eustace (D-Passaic), the bills come at a time when the transgender community faces an increasingly hostile environment in a Republican-led administration.

Earlier this month the Department of Justice under Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced it was largely abandoning a policy of supporting the rights of transgender students in cases involving bathroom use, sending an unmistakable message: You're on your own.

Meanwhile, the White House and its GOP enablers are also determined to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, which bars insurance companies from excluding transgender benefits for coverage. One of the bills in the package would ensure that such protections remain in place, even if attempts to eviscerate Obamacare succeed.

Other developments are somewhat more optimistic.

Vainieri Huttle pointed to news that a 9-year-old New Jersey boy recently became the first openly transgender Cub Scout in the country when he joined a Maplewood pack after being turned away by a pack in Secaucus, where he and his family live.

And the state recently saw the opening of the PROUD Family Health Clinic, the first medical practice dedicated to working with lesbian, gay and transgender patients.

Founders of the clinic, located on the Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital campus in Somerville, recognize that specific health needs of transgender patients are too often ignored in traditional health settings.

Barbra "Babs" Casbar Siperstein, the first openly transgender member of the Democratic National Committee, told the legislators of a transgender woman who died after being denied care for prostate cancer.

In a tragically similar case, Siperstein cited another transgender woman who bled to death when medical personnel withheld treatment once they discovered she had male genitalia.

Anecdotal evidence like this, as well as research and statistics, are powerful evidence that the measures the committee approved this week are far from frivolous.