What if I have to take off my clothes?

By Afton Bradley

afton, final pic When a loved one is hurt our first instinct is to take them to a medical provider.  As we drive them to the hospital many things run through our minds: will they be okay, is their bone broken, what if it’s not just a cold?  But, when you are transgender those questions take a backseat to questions like: what gender do I put on the forms, where is safe, do I have to tell them, what if I have to take off my clothes?

My name is Afton, and I am a transgender male.  In addition to this, I am the trans intake counselor at Fan Free Clinic.   I assist our transgender patients at the clinic and provide resources and referrals to transgender Virginians across the state.  Why might you ask, do people call me from across the state looking for answers about trans-specific healthcare?  The answer lies in the questions I posed above.  Often when we seek care, regardless if it is related to being trans, the trans piece of our identity becomes the primary target.  I am constantly asked what issues we see with the transgender community and healthcare.   There are numerous statistics to cite, but I think it’s most important to highlight what I see every day.

At Fan Free we provide primary care and hormone therapy to those who currently do not have health insurance and live in our geographic region.  Overall, we know that transgender people are more likely to be uninsured and our patients are able to receive healthcare that is sensitive, respectful, and inclusive.  However for many people in Virginia, not having insurance is most often an automatic barrier to being able to receive necessary care.  Hormone therapy and transition related surgeries are often not affordable without insurance.  We know access to these services is critical to improved mental health outcomes, self-acceptance, and quality of life.  Even being able to change our birth certificates in Virginia to match our gender requires surgery.  With surgeries costing anywhere from $20,000 to $100,000, most transgender individuals who do wish to have surgery are unable to afford the procedures.

I mentioned lack of insurance is a primary barrier, but unfortunately  many insurance policies do not cover transgender specific healthcare.  Many of us who do have health insurance still must be able to save and pay out of pocket for our hormones and surgery.  I mentioned the word necessary earlier, and it is important to know that hormones and surgery are a vital piece to many of us as we transition.  Every person has a different puzzle with different pieces to affirm their gender. We need our insurance to honor these procedures as medically necessary as many insurances and organizations already have.

I could continue to discuss hormones, surgery, and lack of physicians who provide these procedures, but when we put the words transgender and health together too often the language focuses only on what we do to change our bodies.  Just as those who are not transgender seek medical treatment, so do we.  Transgender individuals – while I wish were superheroes and often think many of us are – do get sick and injured and need access to a physician when we are in a car accident, get an infection, etc.  I get a large number of calls looking for hormone therapy, but I also get calls from people looking for a safe physician.  When someone is ill, the last thing that should be in their mind is am I going to be a victim of harassment or harm?  However, these are validated fears as I and others have been called the wrong gender, questioned about our genitalia and bodies, or denied treatment.

Every week I am left telling people I am sorry but we do not know of a provider in your area.  I am also told stories that mirror ones I know too well: doctors treating us like objects, leaving mental and- in rare instances – physical scars that we cannot erase.  My rural roots seem to always carry me back to Virginia, but I, just like my friends and clients, know that healthcare that is respectful of our identities, affordable, and inclusive is sporadic in this state. Laverne Cox says that “loving trans people is a revolutionary act.”   I believe that for our health and well-being the medical community needs to join this revolution.

This blog is part of Equality Virginia’s summer 2014 blog series on LGBT Virginians and access to insurance.  Learn more about Equality Virginia’s work by signing up to receive our emails!  Another great way to stay in touch is by liking us on Facebook and following us on Twitter.    

Prides – we’ve come a long way, baby!

By Ali Mislowsky

collage for pride email

Pride season in Virginia starts this week!  Even with the Supreme Court blocking marriages from starting in Virginia, we still have a lot of celebrating to do.  Putting it all in perspective, we are still closer to marriage than ever before.  Over the next month and a half at Prides throughout the Commonwealth, we will joyously observe Virginia’s progress towards equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals and families.   When we take a look back over the decades, Virginia, the United States, and countries around the world have come a long way in not only accepting, but celebrating, diversity.

Summer of 1970 in New York

44 years ago, the first pride parade was held in New York City. It was the summer of 1970, and the setting was bleak. The march, called Christopher Street Liberation Day, was scheduled one year after the Stonewall riots on the last Saturday of June of 1969.

The Stonewall riots are the unofficial, but widely regarded, start of the gay pride movement.  They were the culmination of anger and frustration with the actions police had taken towards LGBT people. After the Stonewall riots, the first gay pride march was held within a year.  Things started progressing quickly: within two years, every major city had gay rights groups.

The participants of the first pride parade marched in spite of fear and threats; it was a risk to be chanting “Gay is good, gay is proud” through the streets. But that was the purpose of the first pride march: to bring awareness to the denial of gay and human rights in 1970. The first day of pride was a commemoration; because of that, at Prides today, we commemorate our past, celebrate our progress, and champion our pride.

Pride in Sao Paulo, Brazil
Pride in Sao Paulo, Brazil

Since June 1970, Pride events have spread across the world. The largest parade, in São Paulo, has millions of attendees. Prides have parades and give scholarships; they allow businesses and organizations to identify as allies; they’re a colorful, loud reminder that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender are ALL “good and proud”; they serve as not only a safe space, but a celebratory space – with hundreds and sometimes thousands of supporters.

This year, we have a lot to be proud of. Two courts have ruled in favor of statewide marriage equality. Virginians support the freedom to marry now more than ever. Our elected officials are listening to us and working on our behalf. But Virginia still has work to do. This year, Equality Virginia is focusing on workplace non-discrimination and second-parent adoption in pursuit of full equality of all Virginians and their families.

We’ll be at Prides across Virginia this season for 44 days- a coincidental nod to the first pride march, 44 years ago. We hope to see you there, celebrating the many reasons we are proud to be LGBT Virginians and allies.


Learn more about Equality Virginia’s work by signing up to receive our emails!  Another great way to stay in touch is by liking us on Facebook and following us on Twitter.    


Equality Virginia disappointed in Supreme Court’s decision to stay the ruling giving Virginians the freedom to marry

Contact: Kirsten Bokenkamp, [email protected], 804-643-4816; 202-957-6611

In response to U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to stay the marriage ruling of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, the following can be attributed to James Parrish, executive director of Equality Virginia


“It is disappointing that the Supreme Court stayed the 4th Circuit Court’s decision,” said James Parrish, executive director of Equality Virginia. “Lesbian and gay Virginians have waited long enough for the freedom to marry. Loving couples – and families – should not have to endure yet another standstill before their commitment to one another is recognized here in Virginia. Every day that this ruling is stayed, more lesbian and gay Virginians will suffer undue harm as they wait to insure their spouses, wait to adopt the children they are raising, and wait to have their relationships affirmed by the Commonwealth. Equality Virginia urges the Supreme Court to take this case as soon as possible and hopes that it will rule once and for all in favor of marriage equality.”

Occupational Hazard: Working for Virginia’s Government

By Brendan Maupin Wynn

BrendanGood news: a federal appeals court upheld the ruling that strikes down the Virginia marriage equality ban, a case which will likely move onto the United States Supreme Court, a big success in the fight for marriage equality. President Obama this year asked us to remember that as we make progress in the courts, “our Nation becomes not only more accepting, but more equal as well.”

Bad news: Even with the progress towards marriage, there are striking ways in which anti-gay discrimination is alive and well in Virginia, and where equality escapes court decisions. One example: if you are gay and you work for the state of Virginia, Virginia can discriminate against you. If your spouse is sick, Virginia agencies will not insure them—even though Virginia will insure the husbands and wives of your heterosexual coworkers. If you work for the state of Virginia and you are gay or lesbian (and in some cases if you are transgender), you cannot provide this benefit to your spouse like everyone else working for the Commonwealth can to their spouses. That’s discrimination. And it happens every day at Virginia’s state institutions.

It’s not that our statewide officials want this to happen. In his very first executive order, Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe reinstated a ban on workplace discrimination of lesbian, gay, bisexual  state employees, and – for the first time in Virginia’s history-  included transgender individuals as part of that executive order. The LGB discrimination ban was included under governors Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, but was notably absent from the executive order on workplace discrimination by former Governor Bob McDonnell. Governor McAuliffe reissued that ban in his executive order because it’s the right thing to do.

But an executive order isn’t enough.  During my last semester as an undergraduate at the University of Virginia, I wrote a letter asking Attorney General Mark Herring for guidance on solving this problem. I issued that letter in June of 2014, during LGBT Pride Month. The project began when I learned that someone whom I respect a great deal suffers every day with the worry and fear that her partner isn’t getting the health coverage she needs as a diabetic. Her partner is going blind. The University cannot provide her with the reliable and affordable health coverage she needs. More than 75 students, faculty, and staff—including President Teresa Sullivan and her husband, law professor Douglas Laycock—signed onto the letter in support of the change.Because it’s the right thing to do.

But if state institutions are instructed not to hold in equal regard the health of all Virginia employees and their families, the executive order is little more than an empty gesture. That’s why it’s so important to keep pushing this. President Sullivan can join in this fight, and that’s great. But her employees still have sick families. Attorney General Herring can issue a statement about the importance of equal rights, but his office hasn’t told a Virginia university ways it can make those rights real for employees.

Federal contractors in Virginia now benefit from employment non-discrimination from President Obama’s executive order, and are eligible for benefits thanks to the Supreme Court striking down portions of the Defense of Marriage Act. Even military personnel in Virginia receive marriage recognition and partner benefits today. The military. But not state employees.Virginia’s Fortune 500 companies. But not state employees.

That’s why my letter is pushing for these benefits, however we provide them. We could allow universities to use foundation money. We could finally accept the Other Qualified Adult plan pushed by Virginians like Bob Witeck and former William and Mary Rector Jeff Trammell, the same way Michigan did. We can find some way to stop waiting around while some Virginia families get sicker and sicker. But we can’t just wait for the courts while families find themselves in medical emergency after medical emergency.

I can’t stand the thought of sick people not receiving adequate medical attention, just because a small powerful minority in Virginia is trying to block all Virginia families from getting the healthcare they need. I can’t stand the thought of people not getting adequate medical attention period. But if we can change this policy for this group of people who give their time to the Commonwealth that I love, and the school that I love, we should do it today. Because it’s the right thing to do.

They can make a procedural argument about why these people have to suffer unfairly. They can make an ideological argument about why these people have to suffer unfairly. They can make any argument they want about why these people have to suffer unfairly.

But here’s my argument: it is cowardly to refuse people appropriate, affordable, and reliable medical care, no matter the reason you choose to hide behind.

Making this right takes courage. It takes the courage of LGBTQ Virginians. It takes the courage of University of Virginia faculty and administrators and leaders at other public institutions saying that enough is enough. It takes the courage of a Governor who stands up for those LGBTQ Virginians and who campaigned on a promise of equality and fairness. It takes the courage of an Attorney General who refuses to defend an unconstitutional and discriminatory marriage ban the majority of Virginians don’t support. It takes courage, but it has to be done, and it has to be done now.

Because it’s the right thing to do. We all hope that the freedom to marry comes to Virginia soon.  But some of these families in need of health insurance don’t have that long to wait.

This blog is part of Equality Virginia’s summer 2014 blog series on LGBT Virginians and access to insurance.  Learn more about Equality Virginia’s work by signing up to receive our emails!  Another great way to stay in touch is by liking us on Facebook and following us on Twitter.    

Marriage Equality – Hope on the Horizon

By Abby Waller

Yesterday I got a text from one of my dear friends. It read: Did Virginia get marriage?!

I immediately stopped what I was doing and started googling and checking facebook faster than my fingers could tap on my iPhone. Sure enough, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals denied a request by a northern Virginia county clerk to delay its ruling that struck down Virginia’s marriage equality ban. While Virginia does not have marriage equality just yet, this means it’s so close that I can taste it. It’s reminiscent of the lemon with raspberry butter cream cake I had on my wedding day.

abbyMy wife and I have been together for almost seven years, and married for three. I remember a specific occasion, after knowing each other for about two weeks, where we were hanging out with some friends, and she tried on this vintage wedding gown she’d found at a thrift store. That was it for me.  Staring, I knew…she was my future. I’m super into surprises, so even though I knew practically right away that I was going to marry her; I kept it a secret…for three years.

For our third anniversary we planned a getaway to Chincoteague, VA – ya know, where the wild ponies roam. I didn’t sleep a wink the night before I planned to propose. The next morning after an insanely delicious breakfast at the gorgeous Garden and Sea Inn, we packed a little picnic and off we went to Assateague Island. We spread our blanket out on a spot at the beach with a perfect view of the ocean, and I tried to act cool and calm as we snacked on cheeses and sipped wine until I felt the moment was right. This next part was so ridiculously perfect; I couldn’t have paid for such a grand romantic moment. As the sun started to set we saw a swarm of butterflies flutter right over our heads. With sweaty palms, I set up a camcorder on its tripod and told her I was taking a timed photo. I hit record, jogged back over to her, and with one hand around her waist, I wrested to get the ring box out of my cardigan’s right pocket. Finally, I dislodged the box and got down on one knee. With shaky hands and my heart slamming against my chest, I asked her to marry me. Tears were streaming down her face when she said yes. I stood to wipe her tears away and kiss her, and then we both had a good laugh as we realized I’d proposed with the ring box upside down. Luckily, she still said yes.

With the possibility of my marriage finally being recognized in the state I call home, I’m so overjoyed that it’s hard focus on anything except that overwhelming joy, and all the memories I have of my proposal and marriage to my super-cute wife.

Shortly after I proposed, same-sex marriage became legal in D.C. So, we ventured up there a few weeks before our marriage ceremony here in Virginia to do all the official paperwork stuff. Technically, we were married on October 4th in Washington, D.C.

However, the real celebration was 25 days later on a drizzly, but beautiful autumn day. It’s funny – you plan and plan all these tiny little details and when your wedding day arrives, all sorts of crazy stuff happens and things go wrong. I was a nervous wreck the days leading up to my wedding, but on the day of, I was cool as a cucumber. My incredible friends and amazing sister (who was also my maid of honor) just made everything happen. Any issues were handled without so much of an utterance of their existence to me or my wife. It really was a perfect day, rain and all.

I am so incredibly grateful for the life I have. The wait for my marriage to be recognized as legal has been a long one, but I can’t imagine the wait some have endured. Of course we still have a long way to go before we’re truly equal, but this is such wonderful and inspiring progress.

At the end of the day, I look into my wife’s eyes and I just feel so fulfilled and lucky. I can’t fathom how anyone could deny us the right to share a life together, a home, and we hope with all our hearts…in the not so distant future, a child. As we continue to build our lives and plan for the future, slowly but surely, the walls standing in the way of marriage equality are crumbling. Hand in hand, we’ll watch each piece fall and for every hateful, jagged shard that falls and weakens those walls – minds everywhere will begin to open to the fact that love doesn’t falter in the face of intolerance.

There is hope for a different future for the countless lesbian and gay couples living in Virginia. For my wife and I, in just one week, our marriage could finally be complete and whole here at home.

This blog was a special submission by Abby Waller. You can see more of her writing at ISpyRVA.   Stay up to date about the marriage ruling by signing up to receive our emails!  Another great way to stay in touch is by liking us on Facebook and following us on Twitter



Equality Virginia hopeful that LGBT couples will be able to marry as soon as next week

Contact: Kirsten Bokenkamp, [email protected], 804-643-4816; 202-957-6611

In response to the Fourth Circuit denying a request to delay implementation of its ruling striking down Virginia laws denying marriage to same-sex couples, the following can be attributed to James Parrish, executive director of Equality Virginia:


“There is no doubt that Virginia is ready for the freedom to marry,” said James Parrish, executive director of Equality Virginia.  “We are thrilled that the 4th Circuit denied the request for a stay and hope that we will see wedding celebrations in Virginia as early as next week.  Marriage validates the commitment couples make to one another and, if the Supreme Court doesn’t intervene, achieving marriage equality in Virginia will be a tremendous step forward.”

Access to partner health insurance benefits would change my life

By Melissa Powell


Melissa (left), and Suzi with their children
Melissa (left), and Suzi with their children

Suzanne and I have been together for twelve years.  During that time we have shared many experiences including raising two beautiful daughters, one dog, one cat; running marathons; renovating a home; attending more sporting events than I can count; celebrating our commitment for each other with a beautiful wedding; and now experiencing the shock and implications of a cancer diagnosis.

As with any couple, we have experienced our ups and downs but we are dedicated to maintaining a loving and supportive relationship and strong family for our children. To say that cancer has challenged our strength, patience, and faith is an understatement, but after fighting cancer for nearly a year here we stand – together.

I was diagnosed with cancer last year when I was 37 years old. Unfortunately, treatment took its toll on my physical strength and it became necessary for me to begin short-term disability this past spring. As part of my recovery, the recovery of our entire family, and to help ensure that the cancer will not return; we decided that I would reduce my work hours from full-time to part-time for at least the next year. Although this places a financial strain on our family, we strongly feel that this is an important step in this journey.

Suzi is employed by the state of Virginia. Secondary to current Virginia laws regarding partner rights I do not have access to Suzi’s health insurance even though she is my wife.  This causes immense stress for a multitude of reasons. Suzi’s insurance is widely accepted and would have afforded me the choice to be treated at a top rated cancer facility that might have had more experience treating younger women with breast cancer.  Suzi’s insurance is also extremely affordable and the coverage is extensive. In addition, I have recently lost my insurance through my employer because I had to reduce my work hours to part time; and because of my special needs it was recommended that I continue with an “extensive policy;” therefore; we are now paying over 500.00 per month for COBRA insurance.

At a time when I should be reducing my stress level and focusing on healing, I have been overwhelmed by the lack of insurance options and the mounting medical bills.

A very dear friend of mine was diagnosed with cancer at the same time I was, and I have watched the differences of her treatment unfold as it related to doctors visits, treatment facility options; and financial burdens. What struck me was that our family situations are very similar in so many ways: We both have two children, loving families, and a strong support network.  But there is one glaring difference: as I was fighting to have visits and procedures covered, and at times paying out of network costs, she was afforded all of the same health benefits and options as her husband.  A great example is the time we decided to visit a facility in Chicago that could provide us with in-depth care as it related to our individualized cancer plans.  Since she was legally allowed to be on her husband’s insurance, everything but a very small portion was covered.  At the same time, I had to pay out of network costs totaling over $1,000.

I do not believe that I can truly find the words to express the feelings of frustration, hopelessness, and defeat as it relates to this matter.  I have had an amazing support network including my employer, my friends, and my family, but even with this level of support the challenges related to insurance coverage have taken a tremendous toll on my well-being and the well-being of my family.

I love Virginia, but as I try my hardest to defeat cancer, focus on rebuilding my health, and prioritize my family’s well-being, Virginia’s policies are preventing me from putting my energy into the most important thing: my life.  Having access to my wife’s insurance – just like other married couples – would give me a chance to enjoy a better quality of life and concentrate on my health.  It is time for Virginia to see us for who we are: A loving Virginian family with the same needs and responsibilities as other families.

 This blog is part of Equality Virginia’s summer 2014 blog series on LGBT Virginians and access to insurance.  Learn more about Equality Virginia’s work by signing up to receive our emails!  Another great way to stay in touch is by liking us on Facebook and following us on Twitter.    


Second-parent Adoption: We picked up and moved to DC

By Jennifer Shearin and Julie Naff

When Julie and I decided to build our family through adoption in 2007, we knew we would need to complete a homestudy first.  We called two local adoption agencies to find out how to get this process started.  Upon finding out that we lived in Virginia, social workers at both agencies responded with, “MOVE TO D.C. OR MARYLAND!”

b-dau pic
Jen, Julie, Danny and Liam celebrating Danny’s 5th birthday

While complicated, either one of us could have legally adopted a child in Virginia as a single person, but we had been a couple for nearly ten years at that point.  In short, we could not even have our request for a homestudy granted to us then because we were a same-sex couple living together in Virginia.  Even if we did find a way to “untangle” our lives as a couple and go forward with a single-parent adoption, the other person would not have had any parental/legal rights to that child, as Virginia does not allow second-parent adoption.  To second-parent adopt in Virginia, you must be legally married.  And, of course, Virginia does not recognize same-sex marriage.

Private adoption can be a difficult process for most people, but there just seemed to be more than our fair share of hoops to jump through!  So we moved to Washington, D.C.

Moving 12 miles might not sound like a big deal, but we had owned a house in Northern Virginia since 2000.  It was the place we called home.  Our house was convenient to our jobs, my family, our friends, our favorite dog parks, etc.  To afford this move out of state, we had to rent out our Virginia home for the next several years, become landlords, manage the property, commute longer distances to work, pay higher taxes on our income, etc.  The only reason for the move: the District of Columbia would allow us to legally adopt children together.

Jumping through these hurdles paid off when our dream to become parents was realized in 2009, when our son, Daniel, was born.  And again in 2011 with the birth of our son Liam.  We have open-adoptions with their birth families in California. Our childrens’ birthparents chose us to adopt and parent our boys, yet Virginia laws stood in the way … Virginia’s laws stood in the way of a private, consensual decision made between adults.

After finalizing Liam’s adoption in 2011, we moved back to Virginia as a legally married couple (thank you, D.C!) and as a family of four, to the home and the community that we loved and missed.  Having finalized our sons’ adoptions in California (where they were both born, and where we could petition the courts as out-of-state residents), both Julie’s and my name appear on their birth certificates as the legal parents of our children.  This could have never happened in Virginia as the laws stand on second-parent adoption.

Virginia’s anti-gay laws disrupted our lives for several years, not to mention the cost of our adoption process skyrocketed with a move out-of-state.

I was born and raised in Virginia.  I am a product of Virginia public schools.  I am a proud public school teacher Virginia.  Julie and I want our children to grow up in a diverse environment with access to quality public schools.  We are law-abiding citizens who pay taxes like any other resident/property owner in the state of Virginia.  Shouldn’t we have the same rights as other Virginians? It is time for Virginia to make second-parent adoption legal.


This blog is part of Equality Virginia’s summer 2014 blog series on second-parent adoption.  Learn more about how Equality Virginia is working toward second-parent adoption and get involved by signing up to receive our emails!  Another great way to stay in touch is by liking us on Facebook and following us on Twitter.    If you are a same-sex couple raising a child in Virginia, please take our survey on second-parent adoption.