Respect Equality

Hawaii governor signs transgender protections into law

“Moving forward, we are redoubling our efforts to be a more inclusive community,” Hawaii Gov. David Ige said.
In this Jan. 21, 2020, file photo, Gov. David Ige speaks to reporters in Honolulu after delivering his state of the state address at the Hawaii State Capitol. (AP Photo/Audrey McAvoy, File)

Story at a glance

  • Hawaii Gov. David Ige (D) late last week signed into law a trio of bills protecting the fundamental rights of LGBTQ+ Hawaiians.

  • One of the measures prevents health insurance companies from discriminating against transgender people seeking gender-affirming medical care. A second piece of legislation states that Hawaiian citizens may not be excluded from juries because of their gender identity or gender expression, and a third establishes a state LGBTQ+ commission to better serve LGBTQ+ people in Hawaii.

  • Hawaii Sen. Chris Lee (D) during a signing ceremony last week said all three bills together represent the state’s rejection of state legislative attacks on LGBTQ+ people happening elsewhere in the U.S.

Hawaii Gov. David Ige (D) has signed into law a trio of bills bolstering protections for LGBTQ+ Hawaiians, advancing LGBTQ+ rights as other states seek to restrict them.

“Moving forward, we are redoubling our efforts to be a more inclusive community in total,” Ige said during a signing ceremony late last week.

Under one of the bills, officially titled the Gender Affirming Treatment Act, health insurance companies in Hawaii will be prohibited from denying patients coverage for medically necessary gender-affirming health care, including procedures previously considered cosmetic, such as voice training and hair removal.

“All health care services related to gender transition treatments shall be considered medically necessary and not cosmetic,” the bill reads. Insurance companies may only be required to cover gender-affirming medical care when treatments, like hormone therapy, are also covered for patients that use them for “purposes other than gender transition.”

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Ige said the measure is “key” to protecting transgender people from discrimination in accessing affirming medical care.

In several places, recent efforts to curb access to gender-affirming care have centered on insurance. Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA), which controls most of the state’s Medicaid program, last week announced a proposed rule that would eliminate Medicaid coverage for interventions used to treat gender dysphoria, even when the same treatments are prescribed to patients who are not transgender.

A second bill signed by Ige states that Hawaiian citizens may not be excluded from juries because of their gender identity or gender expression.

“Our Constitution requires a jury of peers, and we believe that everyone in our community should be a participant in our system,” Ige said.

A final bill signed by the governor establishes a state commission on the status of LGBTQ+ people in Hawaii. 

The commission, whose membership will consist of multiple state and county representatives appointed by the governor, will aim to improve the state’s interface with the LGBTQ+ community and identify short- and long-term needs of LGBTQ+ Hawaiians.

“The commission will play a critical role in coordinating programs, creating public awareness and establishing long-range goals and cooperation on behalf of the LGBTQ+ community,” Ige said. “Collectively, these three bills are critical in supporting the LGBTQ+ members in our community.”

Speaking after Ige, Sen. Chris Lee (D), a co-sponsor of the third measure to create an LGBTQ+ commission, reminded those gathered at the signing ceremony that, together, the bills signed by Ige represent the state’s resistance to attacks on LGBTQ+ rights happening elsewhere in the U.S.

“These bills, while important each on their own merits, mean so much more,” he said. “This isn’t just about a commission or jury service – this is about fundamentally rejecting the politics of division and discrimination now permeating throughout the rest of the country.”

Hundreds of bills targeting LGBTQ+ people have been introduced this year in nearly every state, groups like the Human Rights Campaign have said. According to the Trevor Project, an LGBTQ+ youth suicide prevention and crisis intervention group, 25 bills signed into law this year specifically target transgender Americans.