Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
The University of Maryland’s Health Center is attempting a heroic yet impossible task: providing truly equal health care to LGBTQ students. According to some metrics, they’ve come astonishingly close. The Human Rights Campaign Foundation recently named this university’s health center a leader in LGBTQ health care equality for the third year in a row. The university’s efforts are admirable and necessary. However, it alone cannot overpower the health care system’s capacity for cruelty. Conservatives have redoubled their attack on LGBTQ Americans’ health, perpetuating hostility. As a result, the health center’s achievements cannot exist in a vacuum.
Prejudice against LGBTQ patients is nothing new. According to a 2010 survey by Lambda Legal, nearly 8 percent of lesbian, gay and bisexual respondents reported being denied health care. This rate was nearly 27 percent for all trans and nonbinary respondents. Respondents also frequently reported being subjected to harsh language. Some even claimed providers refused to touch them. Needless to say, President Trump isn’t looking to improve the situation. Instead, he and his allies are giving bigoted providers legal cover.
The health center’s efforts are still admirable. It offers care tailored to LGBTQ students — such as hormone therapy — and creates an inclusive environment, including gender-neutral restrooms. Senior Louie Dukinfield praised the trans health care program, saying, “the health center was the best and was super helpful.” Savannah Speir, a senior cell biology and genetics major, also praised the health center’s environment: “As someone who has used their resources, I feel respected and felt safe going there.” However, the health center’s reputation isn’t enough to dispel some students’ fears of seeking care.
According to Speir, some students are afraid to take advantage of the university’s services because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The health center’s sexual health program coordinator also indicated the center’s improvements are driven by a desire to address LGBTQ students’ wariness of accessing health care.
Those fears are not unfounded. They are the result of relentless discrimination in health care against LGBTQ folks. The Trump administration said it plans to roll back an Obama-era rule meant to prevent doctors, hospitals and insurers from discriminating against transgender patients. Rescinding the rule could amplify the inequality transgender patients already face, and further cement the culture of hostility toward LGBTQ patients as a whole. With Trump’s attempts to ban transgender people from serving in the military struck in court, this must seem like the next best way to harm and humiliate people who don’t agree with the conservative definition of gender.
Conservatives trying to strip trans people of their health care argue they are simply protecting healthcare providers’ religious freedom. Obviously, there is no logical interpretation of religious freedom that values doctors’ comfort over patients’ care. Conservatives are transparently twisting their religion into an excuse for cruelty. This cruelty, not some twisted notion of religious freedom, is what the Trump administration endorses. That’s their vision for American health care.
The health center is countering that vision. By definition, however, it cannot be enough. Equality in a bubble is not equality. LGBTQ students cannot, and should not, accept that their care is valued less than their cis, straight peers by the White House and in hospitals across the country. Anyone who believes that all people deserve their health and dignity should take up the fight for equal health care.
Nate Rogers is a freshman physics major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.