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Study: Most Americans Oppose Medical Discrimination Against Trans People

Opinions Could Vary Based on Race of Patients, Research Finds

By Rachael Grahame ’17

Illustration of doctor giving patient a vaccine

Transgender people deserve health care from doctors regardless of their personal beliefs about gender identity or other matters, according to a vast majority of respondents in a survey conducted by UMD researchers.

Illustration by iStock

Most Americans generally agree that denying care to a trans person is wrong, according to a new University of Maryland survey, with only 25% of respondents saying it’s acceptable for a provider to deny care to a trans person due to religious objections.

Depending on the patient’s race and gender, a larger share of respondents—46% and 55% respectively—said it was acceptable for a provider to deny care due to inadequate training, according to the study published in American Sociological Review. This finding, which stems from a nationally representative survey of nearly 4,876 respondents, comes with pros and cons, sociology Assistant Professor Long Doan said.

“People are holding health care providers to a higher standard than they hold others; that’s promising and reflects the heightened status of health care in society, that with great power comes great responsibility,” he said. “On the flip side, what the findings suggest is that if providers give reasons related to their inadequate training to treat trans medical issues, and the public is OK with that, that is problematic, especially in this study.”

Survey participants were asked to read a short scenario and answer questions about their reaction to an ill (but non-emergent) individual going to an urgent care and being denied care. The details about the individual’s name and gender identity, as well as the provider’s reason for treating or not wishing to treat that person, changed depending on the vignette that the participant was randomly assigned, revealing more about people’s thoughts on the denial of care under various conditions.

For example, Doan and his coauthor, Hamilton College Assistant Professor Matthew Grace, did not find gender to be a major influencing factor in Americans’ denial of care approval or disapproval, but they did find that respondents’ answers varied by race. Respondents were more likely to advocate for a doctor’s right to refuse care when the ill individual was Black and Latinx rather than white.

The research comes amid increased attention to transgender rights, in part because of Florida’s newly signed “Don’t Say Gay” bill and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott ordering the state to investigate parent-approved gender-confirming surgeries as child abuse, and may signal that such initiatives are unlikely to gain traction nationwide.

“I’m hesitant to go beyond the data in terms of forecasting what these findings suggest in terms of some of the anti-trans bills that are cropping up across the country, but I think the fact that a majority of Americans were against the denial of medical care to trans people regardless of the doctor's justification suggests that current attacks on the rights of trans people will ultimately not be viewed favorably by the public,” Grace said.



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