By Sabia Prescott, EI blogger

On May 13, 2016, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) outlawed discrimination by healthcare providers against patients on the basis of gender identity, effectively expanding transgender rights in healthcare. The new ruling explicitly outlaws, as part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), sex discrimination, and now, by proxy, gender discrimination. Although LGBT and gender non-conforming people face innumerable challenges in day-to-day life based on orientation, access to health care is one of the most tangible. This law, slated to take effect July 18, will advocate for a range of scenarios, including transgender people looking to insurance to cover hormonal therapy; patients who don’t “look feminine enough” to be provided sex-specific treatment; and even those harassed for the way they present themselves.

The legal gravity of the ruling is rooted in the way HHS interprets gender and its limitations for those who do not adhere to the strict male-female binary. ‘Gender identity’ now falls under the umbrella protections already covering sex discrimination within ACA. According to The Atlantic, “this is the latest in a series of administrative interpretations that are helping to establish legal protections for people with a wide range of gender identities.”

Prior to the passage of ACA, no federal law existed to protect against sex discrimination in healthcare. This important step toward healthcare equity will make a world of difference, particularly to transgender people counting on insurance to cover necessary treatment and physicians to provide equitable care. Beyond the palpable effects this will have for thousands across the country seeking fair care, the ruling carries symbolic meaning as well. “Gender” is now legally understood and recognized as a spectrum and with this ruling, the ACA states that anyone, regardless of where they fall, deserves dignity and equitable access to the law. Although this presents a new set of challenges, it has the potential to be a first step toward normalizing transgender rights.