Transgender woman sues after being denied free breast cancer screening

8:06 PM, Oct 14, 2013   |    comments
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DENVER - The legal definition of "female" is at the center of a new lawsuit.

Jennifer Blair, a transsexual woman, is suing for the right to get free breast cancer screenings.

Blair had surgery to change her gender more than a decade ago.

Women's Wellness Connection, a state-run healthcare program, recently turned her away because she is "not genetically female."

9Wants to Know began looking into this after getting a newstip, and found this lawsuit could have national implications.

It's a complicated legal issue, but it all boils down to a simple question: If someone is born a man, but has surgery to become a woman, are they entitled to same free healthcare as other women?

"I'm just a person like anyone else," said the 62-year-old Blair. "I have the same hopes, the same dreams, [and] the same concerns as any other woman."

Only Blair wasn't born a woman.

She spent almost 50 years living as a male.

"It was not really an authentic life," Blair said.

Blair had gender reassignment surgery a decade ago and takes a daily maintenance dose of Estradiol, a doctor-prescribed synthetic estrogen.

"That dose also does put me at an elevated risk for a variety of tumors, including breast cancer," Blair said.

After noticing unusual breast growth, Blair went to Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains on the 6300 block of E. Exposition in Denver for a mammogram, paid for by Women's Wellness Connection.

The state-run program offers free cancer screenings for low income women.

"I don't have any health insurance," Blair said.

Even though she meets all the requirements, Blair was turned away.

"I was shocked. I was hurt," Blair said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) pays for the program, and says it only covers clients who are "genetically female."

"It's discrimination based on her transgender status. I think that's pretty black and white," said Blair's attorney Sarah Parady.

Parady filed a lawsuit, claiming what happened to Blair violates the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act.

"And we think that is a terrible injustice," Parady said.

9NEWS legal analyst Scott Robinson says federal law is unclear on the transgender issue and congress needs to act.

"That's why we need legislation," Robinson said. "To determine how such individuals need to be treated - whether as male, or as female."

Blair eventually scraped together enough money to pay for a mammogram and learned she does not have breast cancer.

She's suing so others like her won't be refused potentially life-saving cancer screenings.

"I am a real woman," Blair said. "This is about social justice. This is about holding public organizations accountable to do the right thing."

9Wants to Know invited Planned Parenthood and Women's Wellness Connection to respond to the lawsuit and had not yet received a response Monday evening.

The Colorado Civil Rights Division did issue a written response, saying the state program is only following CDC guidelines.

9Wants to Know tried getting a response from the CDC, but we're told their press office is closed because of the government shutdown.

"We don't comment on pending litigation," Mark Salley, communications director for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said.

(KUSA-TV © 2013 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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