The organisation that represents doctors in the USA has voted to amend its non-discrimination policies to include transgender people.

The American Medical Association’s non-discrimination policies already included sexual orientation.

“Transgender patients, physicians and medical students continue to face discrimination around the country,” Joel Ginsberg, executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association (GLMA), said.

“The AMA has said it’s time for this to stop.”

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Centre for Transgender Equality, called the new AMA policies: “a great step in moving the American healthcare system in a direction of more fairness for transgender people.”

The AMA has taken an increasingly high-profile stance in the past few years on issues of concern to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender patients and physicians.

In 2005, a sitting AMA president for the first time addressed GLMA’s Annual Conference. Also that year, the AMA formed an Advisory Committee on LGBT Issues, with one of the seven seats reserved for a GLMA representative.

The new policies address a wide range of scenarios, including discrimination against patients, medical students and physicians.

“We hear many stories of abuse,” said Ginsberg.

“Last October, we were contacted by a transgender medical student in California whose dean insisted on identifying him as transgender in his application for a surgical residency programme.

“One of our members recently told me that when she told her business partner she was planning to transition, he threatened to dissolve the partnership and take all the patients.

“She had no choice but to walk away and start over. And many transgender persons have reported being subjected to intrusive and unnecessary physical examinations. These new policies say these things shouldn’t happen.”

In 1999, Robert Eads, a female-to-male transsexual, died of ovarian cancer after multiple doctors refused to treat him. His case was documented in the 2001 documentary, Southern Comfort.

One section of the new policy states the AMA’s opposition to the denial of health insurance on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

According to GLMA and the National Centre for Transgender Equality, many transgender persons are unable to obtain insurance coverage for care related to transitioning, such as hormone treatments, surgeries, prostheses and mental health services.

Denial of care can also extend to “contra-gender” care, such as prostate exams for some male-to-female transgender patients, and gynecological care, which is needed for some female-to-male transgender patients.

A variety of healthcare insurers and municipalities across the country are re-examining their policies to ensure that transgender patients are not denied access to medically necessary services.

“AMA policies carry a lot of weight,” Ginsberg concluded.

“That’s why we’re pleased that the AMA is recognising gender identity as an important issue for so many patients and healthcare professionals.”

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