Healthcare and LGBTQ debates collide in trans medical tourism

The Seattle Globalist is launching a new multimedia project on transgender health care in the U.S. and why Americans are traveling to places like Thailand for more affordable options. The project, called “The Cost of Gender” hits at the core of two of the most heated debates in the US: health care and LGBTQ rights.  

For transgender people, accessing medical services and gender reassignment surgery is more difficult in the U.S. than in places like Iran and Brazil, where it is provided nearly free of cost.

In the midst of the presidential campaign, transgender health care may seem like an obscure topic. But it actually falls right between to of the most hotly debated issues in this country, Obamacare and LGBTQ rights.

President Obama even recently released a memo barring discrimination against transgender patients by companies receiving federal dollars.

Rev. Carla Robinson is currently planning her gender reassignment surgery in Thailand, but the out-of-pocket cost is the only thing delaying her trip. She shares her story for the Globalist’s latest project, “The Cost of Gender.

The short, but significant, statement marks a growing shift in attitude and awareness around the hurdles transgender people face on the way to receiving basic health care.

This is why hundreds of Americans are still traveling abroad for medical services provided at a fraction of the cost.

In the U.S., a gender reassignment surgery can cost in the range of $30,000. In Thailand, the same procedure offered by experienced surgeons will cost in the range of $7,000. Even with a plane ticket and hotel costs, the trip is still a bargain in comparison.

The affordable cost paired with Thailand’s vibrant trans community, is what leads people like Rev. Carla Robinson from Seattle to make plans several years in advance for the journey overseas.

“It’s important for me because it’s about my sense of self. It’s about bringing another part of me inline with who I am,” Robinson said.

Even though she has Group Health insurance through her position as pastor at All Saint’s Episcopal Church, she will still have to pay out of pocket for her surgery and any other related medical expenses.

The cost is not the only barrier for trans patients going to the doctor. They are often meet with a barrage of questions, often inappropriate, about their gender and sex from doctors and nurses.

“I felt sort of side-showish and embarrassed,” Robinson said after fracturing a collar bone and ending up in the E.R. “They asked questions like I held the answers for all trans people.”

In places like Thailand, some transgender specialists perform up to three operations a week and have a more relaxed approach to treating trans patients.

The Cost of Gender is a new multimedia project by the Common Language Project and The Seattle Globalist.

This is why The Seattle Globalist are launching a brand new multimedia reporting project called “The Cost of Gender.”

Filmmaker Dacia Saenz and myself will be traveling to Thailand in November to report on medical tourism, the Thai trans community and to share the stories of Americans in search of affordable and conscientious medical care overseas.

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