The ACLU is suing the Georgia Department of Community Health on allegations that the state violated the law when denying two Black transgender women gender-affirming care under Medicaid.
The ACLU filed the lawsuit Thursday on behalf of Shon Thomas, 45, and Gwendolyn Cheney, 60, two Black transgender women who are enrolled in Georgia Medicaid but have not been able to receive gender-affirming surgical treatment.
The lawsuit claims that the lack of care provided under Medicaid for the two women is a violation of the Constitution, Affordable Care Act and the Medicaid Act.
“Ms. Thomas and Ms. Cheney have each been denied health care because of Georgia’s unconstitutional and unlawful ban on gender-affirming care for transgender people,” Taylor Brown, a staff attorney with the ACLU LGBTQ & HIV Project, wrote in a statement.
“If they were not transgender, Georgia Medicaid would cover the procedures they seek," she added. "This is discrimination and it is against the law."
The ACLU noted that Thomas and Cheney have both had “inconsistent access to health insurance” and have had trouble finding medical providers who have previously worked with transgender people.
Georgia, according to the ACLU, is one of 10 states that prohibit transgender adults from receiving gender-affirming care under Medicaid.
The lawsuit writes that many surgical treatments that are meant to treat gender dysphoria, which refers to the strong feeling that one's identity differs from their birth sex, are covered under Georgia Medicaid “when used to treat non-transgender people for other conditions.”
“In short, Georgia Medicaid is unlawfully discriminating against Ms. Thomas and Ms. Cheney on the basis of their sex and transgender status,” the lawsuit continues.
It adds that Georgia Medicaid’s exclusion “incorrectly characterizes their gender-confirming health care needs as “cosmetic” and/or “experimental or investigational,” when the medical community recognizes that they are effective treatments for gender dysphoria.”
The ACLU concluded that the characterization is exposing the transgender women to “significant and avoidable harms to their health and well-being, in violation of the U.S. Constitution and federal law.”
The ACLU is requesting that the lawsuit be given class-action status, and for the state’s Medicaid program to ultimately stop enforcing the exclusion.
It is also calling for the program to mandate state health officials to make Medicaid coverage available to individuals who are eligible for transition-related surgical treatment.
“Oftentimes I have felt like giving up because I do not feel complete,” Cheney said in a statement.
“I don’t feel like who I know I am. It has stopped me from living a full life. My life has not been a free one, it has been hard and difficult. I don’t want to just exist. I want to live. I want to be out in the world and be accepted," she continued.
"Having access to this care would give me a chance to actually live as who I am. I want to be all that I can be and I can’t be that with gender dysphoria. It’s a chance to have a normal life without depression and anxiety,” she added.
Thomas expressed a similar sentiment, writing in a statement, “Even when it comes to health care, we are only given the bare minimum to exist. It keeps me depressed, I think about it all the time, and it feels like there is no way out."
“This case, fighting for my health, is the whole world to me, my whole life. If we are successful, it would mean everything to me,” she added.
The Hill reached out to the Georgia Department of Community Health for comment.