Jami Claire has been waiting 55 years to complete her transition to female. For 32 of those, she has worked at the University of Florida. At 62, she’s currently a senior biological scientist in the College of Veterinary Medicine. But despite her professional success, the state of Florida has denied her critical medical benefits, she says.
On Monday, Claire and Kathryn Lane, another transgender state employee, hit Florida officials with a federal lawsuit for denying them transgender medical care.
The suit, filed in the Northern District of Florida, claims that the state has refused health insurance coverage that includes even basic transition-related health care, like hormone replacement therapy (HRT). It names the Florida Department of Management Services, the University of Florida, and the Public Defender of the Second Judicial Circuit of Florida.
Claire began her transition in 1997. Since then, she claims she’s shelled out an estimated $22,000 for gender confirmation care. She is still seeking surgery prescribed by her doctor, something her state AvMed Insurance Plan has denied, she says.
“I’m planning on using a third of my retirement money for the bottom surgery,” Claire (pictured above) tells NewNowNext. “I should be able to use my retirement money for my retirement rather than a medically necessary procedure. That is why we’ve been saving for retirement after all.”
In Lane’s case, the refusal of care was devastating, according to the complaint. The 38-year-old attorney at the office of the public defender has sought coverage for transition-related care since 2012 under her state plan. Last year alone, she was denied coverage for facial feminization surgery twice.
“Despite her intentionally feminine presentation, Ms. Lane’s facial features can still be identified as masculine, which causes her significant anxiety, depression, and psychological distress, in addition to putting her at risk for violence, harassment, and discrimination,” the suit reads.
Andy Thomas, the public defender of the Second Judicial Circuit of Florida named in the suit, says he supports his trans employees having full medical benefits.
“I haven’t seen the lawsuit; I’m aware of the litigation,” he tells NewNowNext. “I can tell you the employee is a valued employee of my office, and I want her to have everything she is entitled to by law.”
The women are represented by the Southern Legal Counsel and the ACLU of Florida. Jimmy Midyette, an attorney with the ACLU of Florida, says the suit could impact hundreds if not thousands of transgender state employees. However, attorneys also believe this case is bigger than those currently employed in the state.
Dr. Billy Huff, a trans man, left his position as the director of LGBTQ affairs at the University of Florida because he couldn’t get top surgery covered by his state plan. Huff ended up relocating to Illinois, a state that explicitly forbids exclusions on transgender health care.
“[With] the amount of talent that is going to leave the state or not coming to the state to begin with because of these exclusions in place, it’s actually better for everyone to make the state more welcoming and affirming for trans folks,” Huff tells NewNowNext.
Twenty-two states and the District of Columbia either ban exclusions on transgender care for state employees or offer those benefits outright. Meanwhile, the Florida suit hinges on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution. It alleges that the state specifically excludes medically necessary coverage for its trans employees, amounting to sex discrimination under Title VII, and violating the constitution.
“It’s the overwhelming consensus of the medical community, scientists, the people that have actually studied the long-term effects, the economic benefits that this should be covered,” Simone Criss, lead attorney on the case for Southern Legal Counsel, tells NewNowNext. “This is access to health care. It’s something that every human needs.”
Both the Florida Department of Management Services and the University of Florida did not immediately return requests for comment from NewNowNext.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article stated that Claire had spent $55,000 on gender-affirming care. Claire’s attorneys say that cost is closer to $22,000.