Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Nassau County and the Transgender Community

I spoke yesterday at the Nassau County Legislature on behalf of the Gender Clarification Law. This law is to clarify what the word “gender” means within the human rights law for the transgender community. The term gender can mean something as simple as the characteristics between male and / or female or it can be as detailed as the “actual or perceived sex and shall also include a person’s gender identity, self-image, appearance, behavior or expression, whether or not that gender identity, self-image, appearance, behavior, or expression is different from that traditionally associated with the legal sex assignment to that person at birth”, which is what is being requested by the transgender community.

I am aware that in Nassau County, Long Island there is no protection for the transgender person. A person can lose their apartment, lose their job or be harassed because they are transgender (a term meaning people whose gender identity differs from their assigned sex at birth). If the word transgender is not specific enough people can decide on their own what it means and people won’t be protected who may look different, dress differently or sound differently than what someone in society sees appropriate.

I witnessed a woman asked to pack and leave her rental home following her transition. She was tall blonde and beautiful and not someone anyone would consider a “freak”. But she had no protection. Someone else I know was pulled over by the police, had her car searched and was brought and left at a hospital because someone else, acting on their own prejudice, reported her having a weapon – of which there was none.

The Nassau County republican-party refuses to support this change in wording. My own republican legislator said to me “No, I won’t support it”. I’m not sure why- accept their own prejudices can be acted on in this powerful position. To give protection to a class of people who are now not legally protected is a slap in the face. Presently, New York City and Suffolk County have human-rights laws which clearly defines what gender means. Nassau Republicans refuse to define the word gender.

Following is my testimony:

"My name is Ilene Corina and I am a Patient Safety Advocate since 1997 and reside in Nassau County. I have been an advocate for the transgender community as part of my training with the American Hospital Association Patient Safety Leadership Training of which I received a full scholarship from the National Patient Safety Foundation. As a board member of The Joint Commission which accredits over 18,000 healthcare organizations, I am an advisor to the Joint Commission LGBT work group because of my work with this community. I am here because there is gender clarification law pending that has not been passed. Here are some of my thoughts and experiences:

A young man hands a written prescription to the medical receptionist that he is in need of a vaginal sonogram. She questions him in front of a waiting room full of patients. Embarrassed he leaves, never to get the care he needs.

A man in need of an EKG is told to remove his shirt. Because of his discomfort with his body given to him at birth he is embarrassed and confused. He has already avoided the gynecologist and mammography he so desperately needs in an attempt to avoid acknowledging his body and the possibility that there may be snickers.

A 45 year old man is hospitalized following a hysterectomy and the doctor wants to put him on the postpartum floor filled with women who just gave birth.

Bill wants to be called Jennifer but nowhere on the medical chart is there a place to have that information available.

The first time I was asked to advocate at the bedside of someone who is transgender, I was determined to be sure the patient was kept safe from medical errors and treated with dignity and respect. But, an unauthorized hospital worker walked into the patient’s room who I was there to support and protect. Every hospital worker must introduce themselves upon entering a room and state their reason for being there. But he got past me – my first experience that the same people who are supposed to help and heal the patient, bring their own curiosity and even prejudices to work every day.

Every day transgender people avoid necessary medical treatment, dreading the inevitable and hurtful lack of sensitivity they may find in the medical community.

Hospitals are not perfect places. Every day as many as 200 people die in Americas hospitals due to preventable medical errors. 98,000 a year.

One hospital worker spent years caring for patients. When he began his transition, he was taunted and harassed but his colleagues who wouldn’t allow him simple dignity and privacy. These are the people who are treating your loved ones.

Most hospital workers are the most caring people we will ever know. But some will go to work with unforeseen prejudices. There must be constant, mandatory, sensitivity training and this behavior will not be tolerated by law.. The place to start that is here, in this room with YOU – each and every one of you who are NOT willing to pass the gender clarification law to protect the rights of the growing number of transgender people who you can’t even count because you can’t find out who they are until they are protected.

Today, we are in a remarkable position: To fix this disconnect between the curious and caring.

A young man has an asthma attack and fears going to the emergency room because he doesn’t want anyone to know he wears a binder. To reveal his body would be more tragic than the struggle to breathe. His life is on the line because there is no protection for him.

 No one can presume that they know how to treat someone with different needs if they have not taken the time to listen, hear and learn what those needs are. I suggest that this legislation is passed today and you stop hiding behind your own prejudices.

Thank you."

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