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OPINION: Washington’s new law is big step for trans healthcare

Senate Bill 5489 prohibits harassment of gender-affirming healthcare providers

Ken McGee, a gender-affirming physical therapist based out of Mill Creek, Washington, stands outside the National Transgender Health Summit where they presented on May 7. Senate Bill 5489 protects healthcare workers like McGee from harassment. // Photo Courtesy of Ken McGee

On April 27, Governor Jay Inslee signed a bill with a flick of his pen. Senate Bill 5489, previously known as House Bill 1469, protects healthcare workers who provide reproductive healthcare and gender-affirming services from harassment. 

The bill also prohibits subpoenas and investigations that “seek information related to abortion and reproductive healthcare services,” according to KOMO news. Representative Drew Hansen sponsored House Bill 1469. It was part of a package of several bills introduced this legislative year, some of which aim to protect access to gender-affirming care. 

Ken McGee is a physical therapist in Mill Creek, Washington. They specialize in gender-affirming care and offer services to people across the LGBTQ+ spectrum. 

Though McGee has not personally experienced harassment for the services they provide, they are aware that it is an issue providers face. 

“I’ve had people say, ‘Don’t list your business address, pay for the service to scrub your presence from the internet,’ and I’ve chosen to be a really out trans[gender] person, and so this gives me an extra layer of safety,” McGee said. “I know other trans business owners that have faced a lot of harassment, and so being in healthcare, [it] is definitely something I worry about.”

As a physical therapist, McGee does a wide range of activities in a day. Sometimes they help people with back pain related to prolonged binder use. Other times, they massage people’s scars after a large surgery or give people with newly made vaginas guidance on vaginal dilation. 

“What’s so nice for me is that my company is by a trans person, for trans people,” McGee said. 

Working in healthcare as a transmasculine person can be challenging. They run into friction when they are working as a medical advocate or visiting hospitals. 

“Thank goodness it hasn’t risen to the level of harassment, per se, where I would ever file a lawsuit,” McGee said. “But I’ve had healthcare providers stop talking to me, I've had them treat me differently, I’ve had them question my judgment in a way that it wasn’t questioned prior to transition.” 

Critics of the new law say it’s not enough, but incremental steps are key. 

Brandy Donaghy, a representative of the 44th district of Washington, expressed that lawmaking is a balancing act between the need for progress and staying within the parameters of the legislative system. 

Washington state has a Democratic majority in both the House and the Senate. Donaghy said the majority was useful to some extent, but bipartisanship was also important. 

“When we pass bipartisan legislation, we’re building something that is, in a lot of cases, less likely to have somebody try to tear it apart,” Donaghy said. 

In other words, bills that make incremental progress have a smaller chance of being rolled back if Washington’s Senate or House ever gains a Republican majority. Now that Senate Bill 5489 is enacted into law, lawmakers have to hope it stays there.  

“Gender-affirming care is healthcare to me," Donaghy said. "There are all sorts of care that each one of us needs in order to be able to live a healthy life, and, for some people, that’s what they need. And it’s as simple as that.”

Andrea Phillips, an advanced registered nurse practitioner and certified nurse midwife, opened Spectrum Reproductive Health in November of 2022. She specializes in sexual pain disorders and pelvic health. 

Phillips estimates about 80% of her patients are somewhere on the LGBTQ+ spectrum. An estimated 50% of patients receive hormone therapy. The rest are OB-GYN and primary care patients.  

Phillips noticed when patients’ primary care doctors saw they started hormone therapy, the doctors started classifying recommendations and visits as transition-related, even if the patient came in for a sprained ankle or depression. 

“A lot of my patients just see me for that. And then I definitely see a lot of transgender patients for pelvic health because it’s difficult to find someone who’s trauma-informed and patient-centered,” Phillips said. 

She hasn’t personally been harassed but knows that other providers outside of the state have been targeted by upper-level management at hospitals. She expressed that SB 5489 was a start, but she would like to see sweeping federal protections for transgender people. 

“I think it has potential to hold people accountable and that’s important,” Phillips said. “Transgender healthcare is only recently getting a spotlight in the last few years. For me, as a provider … it doesn’t make me feel any more protected.” 

Phillips thinks people will still target providers and she would like to see systemic federal changes increasing access to gender-affirming care nationwide. 

But it all comes back to the idea of compromise and balance, which Donaghy stressed. 

“Sometimes, I think, we can end up in situations where we have to do the best we can with what we have because it’s the system that we have to work with,” Donaghy said. “And so we do that while also working to change the system in other ways.”

Cordelia Longo

Cordelia Longo (they/them) is a senior at Western majoring in political science. In their free time, you can find them listening to Taylor Swift and asking to pet strangers' dogs. 

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