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American Medical Association Passes New LGBT Policies

Transgender Prisoner Rights and LGBT Family Paid Leave Efforts Get AMA’s Boost

An activist waves a rainbow flag in Manhattan, New York, US, February 26, 2017.  © 2017 Reuters

The American Medical Association (AMA) adopted new policies last week that will position the organization as an advocate for better protections for transgender people in detention, and LGBT-inclusive family leave policies.

My colleagues have investigated paid leave issues in the US. The 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires employers to grant up to 12 weeks of unpaid annual leave to allow workers to care for a spouse, child, or parent with a serious health condition, or to care for newly born or adopted children.

Among many other harrowing findings, our 2011 report included interviews with parents whose same-sex spouses were denied even unpaid FMLA leave because employers did not consider the babies of the non-biological parent to be “family” for purposes of their leave policies (in violation of the FMLA). For example, a woman in a same-sex relationship in Arizona whose partner experienced complications after a c-section when delivering twins was denied leave to support her during a prolonged hospital stay.

The 2015 Supreme Court judgment affirming same-sex marriage rights protected married same-sex partners, and some states are now going further by using a “blood or affinity” model, which allows FMLA-equivalent benefits for chosen family, domestic partners, and individuals who are dependent on the employed individual. The AMA’s new policy means physicians will now advocate for such inclusive definitions of family.

The AMA will also support advocacy for transgender people in detention.

In our 2016 report, we documented the ill-treatment of trans women in immigration detention facilities in the US, including placement in cells with men, where they experience disproportionately high rates of sexual assault.

This means the AMA will now advocate for trans people in detention to be placed in facilities in accordance with their gender identity and that those facilities not amount to solitary confinement. It is particularly important given that in May 2018, the Bureau of Prisons announced that “biological sex” will be used as the basis for initial placement determinations, and trans prisoners will be assigned to facilities according to their gender identity only “in rare cases.”

Having the AMA support these LGBT rights issues will boost years of advocacy by community groups. The AMA’s stances on other issues, such as its complete opposition to “conversion” therapy, have made a significant difference by joining the medical community’s voice with that of rights advocates.

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