Support Grows for Colorado Transwoman Denied Cancer Screening

by Winnie McCroy
EDGE Editor
Thursday Oct 24, 2013

Support is growing for an uninsured transwoman in Colorado who was denied a breast cancer screening. Like most transwomen, she takes a daily maintenance dose of Estradiol, a synthetic estrogen drug.

"That dose also does put me at an elevated risk for a variety of tumors, including breast cancer," said transwoman Jennifer Blair to Denver's WUSA 9 News.

When the 62-year-old Blair found the lump in her breast, she did what any woman would do: she went to get a mammogram. But doctors at the federal funded Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains program for low-income women denied her the federally subsidized mammography paid for by the state-run Women's Wellness Connection program, citing federal guidelines that say she is "not genetically female."

"I was shocked. I was hurt," said Blair, who transitioned a decade ago. "I'm just a person like anyone else. I have the same hopes, the same dreams and the same concerns as any other woman."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention disagree; they pay for the program, and say it only covers those clients who were born "genetically female."

According to a January 2012 CDC post, "We will cover transgender female to male clients who have not undergone bilateral mastectomy or total hysterectomy since their cancer risk remains the same. But we do not cover transgender male to female patients."

According to a recent article in the Windy City Times, the case has attracted the attention and support of the Human Rights Campaign and the National Center for Transgender Equality. The groups have called upon the CDC to investigate and change these discriminatory guidelines to keep them consistent with the federal government’s commitment to ending health disparities that result from lack of access to care.

"Breast cancer screenings save lives and should be available to all women, period," said Shane Snowdon, director of the HRC Health & Aging Program. "This policy isn’t simply discriminatory, it’s dangerous, and we hope our leaders at the CDC will address it immediately."

Blair eventually got together enough money to pay for the mammogram. But she has filed a complaint under the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act.

"It’s discrimination based on her transgender status. I think that’s pretty black and white," said Blair’s attorney Sarah Parady to Denver 9 News.
Harper Jean Tobin, NCTE director of policy, said that excluding transgender women from a breast cancer screening program has no legitimate basis and flies in the face of accepted medical standards.

"That is irrational discrimination, plain and simple. We hope and expect that the CDC will act swiftly to make clear that these programs must serve all women," said Tobin.

As for Blair, she was pleased to learn that she did not have breast cancer, but promised to continue her suit on behalf of other transwomen.

"I am a real woman," Blair told Denver 9 News. "This is about social justice... about holding public organizations accountable to do the right thing."

Winnie McCroy is the Women on the EDGE Editor, HIV/Health Editor, and Assistant Entertainment Editor for EDGE Media Network, handling all women's news, HIV health stories and theater reviews throughout the U.S. She has contributed to other publications, including The Village Voice, Gay City News, Chelsea Now and The Advocate, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.


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