The ACLU of Northern California, the ACLU of Southern California, the ACLU LGBT & HIV Project and the law firm Covington & Burling LLP filed a lawsuit today against Dignity Health on behalf of Evan Minton, 35.
Growing up, Evan felt a constant sense of shame about himself. He often felt like he could just crawl out of his body. Like he didn’t belong.
It wasn’t until 2011 that Minton first had an inkling that he may be transgender: “I never felt that my body was my home and I could never figure out why. I spent years and years trying to get the bottom of my soul to figure out why I had these feelings,” Minton said.
Coming to terms with his identity was both scary and liberating for Minton who has struggled gender dysphoria his entire life:
“Finally, when I was able to come to terms with who I was that feeling of shame I felt my whole life just evaporated. It just disappeared all at once. I don’t feel ashamed anymore, I can now feel like I am at home in my body but that feeling requires a transition for me,” Minton said. He said the transition is critical to his identity and is a way to fight the gender dysphoria he suffered from all his life.
So the transition journey began as Minton legally changed his name. The next step was a gender-transition procedure but — before Minton could undergo phalloplasty he needed to go through a hysterectomy. The two surgical procedures are crucial for a female to male sex reassignment surgery.
The hysterectomy was scheduled at Mercy San Juan hospital in Sacramento run by Dignity Health. Dignity Health is the 5th largest healthcare system in the country and the largest hospital provider in California, with 29 hospitals across the state. It was formerly known as Catholic Healthcare West but in 2012 as part of its expansion, the organization dropped the words “Catholic” and “West.” The name change meant dropping its most visible connection with the Roman Catholic Church.
However, it appears that the discriminatory practices against the LGBT community — often associated with the Catholic Church — still remain intact.
Two days before the scheduled hysterectomy Minton received the routine pre-op call from a nurse: “Towards the end of the call I let her know that I am transgender and if she could make a note that my pronouns are really important for me I go by he, him and his,” Minton recalled.
The next day the hospital canceled the procedure.
The news devastated Minton: “I remember my doctor asking me if I was able to sit down or if I had my family around me. I remember hearing her say ‘I have to let you know that your hysterectomy has been canceled’. I was in my parents’ bedroom and I just fell on the floor crying hysterically. I walked around the house blinded by my tears, grasping on to furniture and kitchen counters to get a hold of myself.”
Minton felt as if the identity he’s struggled so hard to come to terms with was being outrightly rejected. The call brought back the trauma he had undergone to come to terms with his true gender.
The delay caused a disruption to Minton’s life who had already scheduled a phalloplasty, a procedure to construct a penis.
“I was forced to put my life on hold because of Dignity’s discrimination,” Minton said. “It was so emotionally stressful. The longer my treatments are postponed, the worse I feel about myself. I constantly struggle with anxiety because of my gender dysphoria; having the hysterectomy meant finally getting rid of the last vestiges of my womanhood.”
Minton was able to get the surgery at another hospital and had to wait until the night before to be certain that the procedure would take place. The traumatic experience compelled Minton to fight back.
The suit filed today argues that withholding medical care because of a patient’s gender identity is sex discrimination in violation of California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act.
Dignity Health regularly allows hysterectomies for patients who are not transgender.
“I routinely perform hysterectomies at Mercy San Juan,” said Dr. Lindsey Dawson, Minton’s doctor. “This is the first time the hospital has prevented me from doing this surgery. It’s very clear to me that the surgery was canceled because Evan is transgender.”
“The refusal of Dignity Health to allow a doctor to perform this common procedure simply because the patient is transgender is discriminatory,” said Elizabeth Gill, a senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Northern California. “This is a hospital that is open to the general public so it’s illegal for them to turn away someone based on gender identity.”
Minton understands that filing the lawsuit would mean reliving the trauma but is determined to fight: “I feel like my community, the transgender community, is so underserved and discriminated against as is. Whether it is in schools, in workplaces or in bathrooms we just deserve more. We deserve to have our humanity acknowledged. That’s why I am coming forward because I don’t want this to happen to anyone else.”