Pittsburgh is joining a list of so-called sanctuary cities for transgender health care. The City Council unanimously approved legislation Tuesday that will protect gender-affirming care from out-of-state investigations and that will undermine the enforcement of any future bans in Pennsylvania.
At least one trans activist, however, said that while she welcomed the protections, there was more work to be done.
The measures, sponsored by councilors Barb Warwick, Bobby Wilson and Bruce Kraus, come as many states across the country impose harsh restrictions on transgender health care, including hormone therapies and surgeries. In some states, parents who seek gender-affirming care for their minor children may face sanctions.
Trans rights are human rights and we are now taking steps to ensure these rights remain safe in the city of Pittsburgh, Warwick said in a statement Tuesday. With more and more states enacting or considering restrictions on gender-affirming care, this legislation was necessary to ensure that Pittsburgh continues to be a safe and welcoming city for the LGBTQ+ community.
Gender-affirming care encompasses a range of treatments, from medical procedures to psychological and behavioral interventions. Medical professionals report that gender-affirming treatment is proven to decrease depression, anxiety, and suicide attempts in transgender individuals.
Warwick cited Wilson’s 2022 abortion protection order as the model for new bills to protect transgender individuals. These protections came into being after the United States Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. Wade.
As with the previous legislative package, one of the new bills would protect providers and patients from out-of-state criminal or civil investigations by prohibiting any municipal agency from assisting in those investigations. The other bill would seek to obstruct the enforcement of any state ban that could be enacted in Harrisburg.
The bill instructs municipal authorities and police to “deprioritize the enforcement of crimes related to the provision or receipt of gender-affirming health services, to the extent possible.”
Pittsburgh joins Kansas City, where similar protections for gender-affirming care became law in May. According to The hillA growing number of Midwestern communities, including Cincinnati and Dane County, Wisconsin, are passing gender-affirming health care protections, often in defiance of conservatives at the state level.
Bills restricting trans rights in Pennsylvania have passed one or both chambers in recent years but have not become law. Former Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed a measure that would have prohibited colleges from allowing transgender athletes to compete in sports that align with their gender identity. A similar bill was reintroduced this spring.
With regard to medical restrictions, a bill currently being considered in the state House would extend the statute of limitations for minors who received gender-affirming treatment to sue their care provider for medical malpractice.
Much of the political rhetoric surrounding transgender health care centers on pediatric procedures, although it is rare for providers to perform surgical interventions until the patient is an adult.
Is Pittsburgh ready for more trans patients?
While health care protections are important to the LGBT community, one activist says the city hasn’t done enough to protect trans individuals in other critical ways. Dena Stanley, executive director of TransYOUniting, said the city could see a surge of trans patients similar to the one that engulfed local abortion clinics in western Pennsylvania last year and have nowhere to house them.
We will have an influx of people coming to our city,” she predicted. “And there are no resources outside of gender-affirming care.”
Pittsburgh has seen its homeless population grow steadily and become more visible in recent years. And trans people are disproportionately affected by housing instability.
According to a 2021 report from the Trevor Project, nearly 40% of transgender and non-binary youth experience homelessness and housing instability. Data from the US Department of Housing shows that the number of transgender people experiencing homelessness in the US increased by 88% between 2016 and 2019.
Stanley said that while it was “amazing” to see support for gender-affirming care, the city could better stabilize the trans community by providing more permanent housing options and employment opportunities.
No one will really worry about health care if they don’t have a place to live, she said.
Stanley also wondered why more voices from the trans community weren’t included in the city’s legislative process.
Warwick confirmed to WESA that his office did not collaborate with activists or community groups in drafting the bills. She cited the city’s abortion protections as what guided the language of her bills.
Stanley said that without addressing concerns such as housing instability, lack of health insurance and unemployment, the bills will not benefit a large portion of the trans community.
“They are doing things without putting plans and protections in place to actually protect trans people, Stanley said.
She also worries that if a wave of patients arrive in Pittsburgh seeking gender-affirming care, it could overwhelm an already fragile system of providers, forcing trans people who are already on waiting lists to delay their care even further. .
There are waits of months and months for all of these things because there aren’t many doctors offering these services, Stanley said.
On the other hand, the mayor’s spokesperson, Maria Montão, a trans woman, highlighted that safeguarding patients also protects providers. She hopes this will result in more suppliers moving to Pittsburgh.
We would receive [providers] with open arms and say: This is a place where not only will you be protected, but the people you serve will be protected, she said.
Stanley emphasized that while the city should do more to support the trans community, the protections are a win.
I’m glad they did something to take care of our people, she said. But at the same time, it’s scary because if we’re a safe haven, we’re going to get an influx of marginalized community members and we’re going to have nowhere to go.
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