Equality Matters

Right-Wing Media Now Attacking Fluke For Non-Controversial Review Of LGBT Employment Discrimination

March 06, 2012 2:14 pm ET - by Justin Berrier

After spending most of the past week defending Rush Limbaugh’s misogynistic attacks on Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke, right-wing media outlets are now attacking Fluke for a 2011 paper she co-edited for The Georgetown Journal of Gender and the Law (the full essay is behind a paywall) that described discrimination in employer coverage of transgender medical care. 

The essay, titled, “Employment Discrimination Against LGBTQ Persons,” pointed out, in part, that employment discrimination persists against LGBT individuals, including coverage discrimination against transgender people:

Many LGBTQ individuals face discrimination in the provision of employment benefits. Discrimination typically takes two forms: first, direct discrimination limiting access to benefits specifically needed by LGBTQ persons, and secondly, the unavailability of family-related benefits to LGBTQ families. 


Transgender persons wishing to undergo the gender reassignment process frequently face heterosexist employer health insurance policies that label the surgery as cosmetic or medically unnecessary and therefore uncovered. 

The conservative Media Research Center’s Stephen Gutowski “discovered” the essay on March 5 and claimed it demonstrated that Fluke “is being sold by the left as something she’s not. Namely a random co-ed from Georgetown law who found herself mixed up in the latest front of the culture war who was simply looking to make sure needy women had access to birth control.” Gutowski claimed Fluke is “pushing some rather radical ideas. Keep that in mind as the left holds her up in the spotlight”:

You see, all opposition to the determination that sex changes are medically necessary, and therefor [sic] must be covered by private employer provided health insurance, is based on "ignorance and bias against transgender persons".


The argument made in this article edited by Sandra Fluke and Karen Hu is quite clear. "Gender reassignment" is a medically necessary set of procedures that must be covered under employee provided health insurance policies. If it is not covered by those policies that is tantamount to discrimination and legal action should be taken against the employer.

So, as you can see, Sandra Fluke is not what she is being sold as. Instead she is a liberal activist pushing some rather radical ideas. Keep that in mind as the left holds her up in the spotlight.

The MRC post was quickly promoted by right-wing media outlets, including the Drudge Report and Fox Nation:

And Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham brought the attack to Fox during this morning’s Fox & Friends

INGRAHAM: Now we find out there was a law journal article written by this particular woman that seems to indicate that she believes that if you don't pay for sex change operations, gender reassignment, it's called – operations -- you also could be described as a discriminatory employer. So today the pill. Tomorrow sex reassignment surgery, perhaps. And then down the road, what other things should be covered for free?

Fluke’s essay is a fairly comprehensive study of various types of employment discrimination against LGBT individuals but, ironically, the one charge that Gutowski chose to highlight as an example of the “radical ideas” that Fluke is “pushing” is not controversial at all.

The LGBT and HIV/AIDS legal advocacy group Lambda Legal has pointed out that the importance of removing financial barriers to gender reassignment is supported by mainstream, nonpartisan groups such as the American Medical Association, the American Public Health Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and other medical groups. The statement from the American Medical Association reads: 

An established body of medical research demonstrates the effectiveness and medical necessity of mental health care, hormone therapy and sex reassignment surgery as forms of therapeutic treatment for many people diagnosed with GID … Therefore, be it RESOLVED, that the AMA supports public and private health insurance coverage for treatment of gender identity disorder.

Moreover, many companies are already covering the cost of gender reassignment surgery. The Associated Press noted in a December 2011 article that a Human Rights Campaign report found that the number of U.S. companies offering coverage more than doubled in the past year:

The Human Rights Campaign said in a report to be published Thursday that 207 of the 636 businesses it surveyed for its annual Corporate Equality Index either are already providing transgender-inclusive employee health benefits or plan to at the start of the new year.

Last year, 85 companies had insurance plans that paid for sex transformation surgeries, and only 49 did in 2009. A decade ago, when the campaign launched the index, none did.


Among the corporations that expanded their insurance coverage this year are Apple, Chevron, General Mills, Dow Chemical, American Airlines, Kellogg, Sprint, Levi Strauss, Eli Lilly, Best Buy, Nordstrom, the U.S. division of Volkswagen, Whirlpool, Xerox, Raytheon and Office Depot. 

The suggestion that Fluke’s description of discrimination in employer coverage of transgender medical care is somehow extreme or outside the mainstream is simply inaccurate.


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