Ensuring Decent Care For Transgender People

by Rev . David Weekley

Our first Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) Ceremony was at a small United Methodist Church in Tacoma, Washington, in 2009. There were 40-45 persons present, most from the local transgender community. Peterson Toscano was performing “Transfigurations: Transgressing Gender in the Bible.”

During one segment of the service, the names of reported victims of anti-transgender violence were read aloud—individuals murdered for their actual or perceived gender expression over the course of the year. Everyone there understood this was a conservative count because other deaths go unreported or unacknowledged.

We had both volunteered as readers, but after reading our initial 3 games apiece, it was clear more readers were needed because the list of names exceeded the number gathered. So we each read another 3 names; later we read another.

It was a powerful and emotional experience, once again bringing home the extreme vulnerability of transgender persons.

We have attended a TDOR service somewhere ever since that first one in Tacoma, and every year the number of names read has increased. One of the names read aloud this year will be that of a young transgender person we met in Chicago just a few years ago.

Last year for TDOR Deborah was asked to compose a reflection for GLAAD from the perspective of being the spouse of one of only two openly transgender clergies ordained in the United Methodist Church.

At that time, we had recently moved from Oregon to Boston for David’s return to school. That blog referenced our sense of vulnerability driving across the country.

One of our greatest concerns was a medical emergency—we carried medications and prescriptions with us just in case.

This TDOR blog comes from a different yet related perspective, which is the result of an opportunity Deborah had to audit a class at the Boston University School of Theology called “Decent Care: Principles and Values.” This class in grounded within both a theological and ethical framework:

Decent care is built on the principle that all humans are active agents who should be at the center of their own care processes; it also recognizes that every human being …can, in their own capacity, flourish and live a dignified, meaningful life that is recognized and respected by others. Our capacity to flourish demands that: we each direct our own health and the care that we receive. (1) 

Today, Decent Care is being implemented in 22 countries and increasing numbers of organizations and systems providing care. This is encouraging, as is the fact that decent care for gay and lesbian people is very much evident and included since the onset of the HIV/AIDS pandemic; however, transgender voices remain absent.

None of the many guest speakers from various global or local organizations who helped to conceive Decent Care, or who work to implement Decent Care, or actually operate their organizations by these principles and values ever mentioned transgender persons and Decent Care unless Deborah brought it up.

Our concerns around safe and decent medical care for transgender people as we drove across the country was neither isolated nor in the past.

Decent health care remains a critical issue for all transgender people, and this absence must be addressed and amended. This is true based upon the basic tenet of “the intrinsic value of each member of the human family” from which the World Health Organization (WHO) operates.

In addition, the Affordable Care Act prohibits discrimination in health care based on gender—including gender identity or gender stereotypes. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently asked transgender people for information about what gender discrimination in health care looks like. Though this comment period is closed, more information on health care rights and transgender people can found through the National Center for Transgender Equality.

As we mark yet another Transgender Day of Remembrance and read the long list of known victims, we encourage us all to move beyond the obvious violence and grief to address deeper systemic issues that contribute to the high number of victims of transphobic violence.

It is remiss to continue excluding transgender people when advocating for Decent Care and the human flourishing with which it is concerned.

Organizations such as the World Health Organization occupy a unique place from which to advocate and educate on behalf of transgender people on a global scale, inviting our voices to the table, and standing with us in solidarity and interdependence that we, too, may flourish.

Photo provided by Deborah Weekley


1. Decent Care: Living Values, Health Justice and Human Flourishing, J. Todd Ferguson, DPhil; Ted Karpf, MTheol; Matthew Weait, DPhil; Robin Y. Swift, MPH, P. 11

Comments (2)

Jane B

Wow! I can’t believe it’s
Wow! I can’t believe it’s been four years. I met you both that night. It was rainy and dark. And yet light came in the form of a friendship that is a point of hope in my life.

Thank you for reminding us of the work yet to be done.

Deborah W

Dearest Jane,
Dearest Jane,
I know, wow is correct…4 years…aLOT has happened in that last four years. I know the Holy Spirit connected us that evening for eternity. Love you and yes, there is still MUCH work to do. <3

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