Trans man sues Dignity Health

  • by Seth Hemmelgarn
  • Wednesday April 26, 2017
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A northern California transgender man is suing Dignity Health, claiming that the San Francisco-based health care nonprofit canceled his hysterectomy.

Evan Minton, 35, who lives in the Sacramento suburb of Orangevale, said in a lawsuit filed April 19 in San Francisco Superior Court that the hysterectomy, in which his uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries would be removed, was the first step toward phalloplasty, the surgical creation of a penis.

"For many other transgender people who find themselves in this situation, they have no one to turn to, and that's why I want to come forward," Minton, who eventually had the procedure done at another hospital, said in an interview.

Minton, who co-chairs the California Democratic Party's LGBT Caucus, served as a legislative aide for Assemblyman Phil Ting (D-San Francisco). He transitioned from female to male in 2012 while working as a legislative staffer to then-Assemblyman Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens), a gay man who's now a state senator.

The American Civil Liberties Union's Northern and Southern California offices, as well as the group's LGBT & HIV Project and the law firm Covington and Burling LLP filed the lawsuit on Minton's behalf, arguing that Dignity withheld care from Minton because of his gender identity, a violation of California's Unruh Civil Rights Act.

Minton had been scheduled to get a hysterectomy at Dignity's Mercy San Juan Medical Center August 30.

Two days before his appointment, a nurse called Minton to talk about the surgery, and he mentioned that he's transgender, his lawsuit says. The following day, the hospital canceled the operation.

According to the lawsuit, Dr. Lindsey Dawson, Minton's primary care physician, had a phone call and meeting with Mercy San Juan President Brian Ivie, in which Ivie "stated that Dr. Dawson would never be allowed to perform a hysterectomy" on Minton at the hospital, and that the hospital "would not allow the hysterectomy to proceed because it was scheduled as part of a course of treatment for gender dysphoria, as opposed to any other medical diagnosis."

The delay caused Minton "great anxiety and grief," he said in his complaint.

"Mr. Minton had no time to spare, as he needed to undergo his hysterectomy three months before his phalloplasty," which was set for November 23, the lawsuit stated.

Minton said that Dawson finally "was able to secure emergency surgical privileges for later in the week, and she performed Mr. Minton's hysterectomy at Methodist Hospital on Friday, September 2."

Lindsey said in an ACLU news release, "I routinely perform hysterectomies at Mercy San Juan. 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."

Elizabeth Gill, a senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Northern California, stated Dignity's refusal "to allow a doctor to perform this common procedure simply because the patient is transgender is discriminatory. 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."

In an emailed statement, Dignity spokespeople said, "We have not been served with the complaint and cannot speak to the allegations until we have the opportunity to review them. What we can share is that at Dignity Health Mercy San Juan Medical Center, the services we provide are available to all members of the communities we serve without discrimination. We understand how important this surgery is for transgender individuals, and were happy to provide Mr. Minton and his surgeon the use of another Dignity Health hospital for his surgery within a few days.

"We do not provide elective sterilizations at Dignity Health's Catholic facilities in accordance with the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services (ERDs) and the medical staff bylaws."

Minton told the Bay Area Reporter that Dignity's refusal came as "a complete shock."

"I'm lucky that my doctor is an advocate, and she scrambled around a lot, and I have friends who have access to powerful people who scrambled on my behalf," he said.

Minton said he had his phalloplasty, but he had to go to the emergency room due to complications. Rather than go to his local emergency room, however, he traveled to San Francisco "because of the experience I had at Dignity Health."

Through the lawsuit, Minton is asking for $4,000 under the Unruh Act, an order enjoining Dignity from discriminating on the basis of gender identity in the provision of health care, and "any further relief the court deems just and proper," among other penalties.

The ACLU filed a federal lawsuit against Dignity in 2016 claiming that the health care provider denied trans employees insurance coverage for medically necessary transition-related care. Irene Rojas-Carroll, with the ACLU, said the case was resolved "without addressing the merits" of the plaintiff's claim.