- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 12, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center made distinct headlines this week when its transgender-only clinic opened.

There is no such clinic in the District, Maryland or Virginia. Indeed, the Cleveland clinic is being hailed as the first in the nation transgender-only clinic.

You read that correctly: transgender-only.

Heterosexuals need not seek treatment there. Like the signs that used to say “whites only” at public schools, swimming pools and water fountains that used to segregate blacks and whites. And don’t forget, our armed forces were segregated, too.

Now the Department of Veterans Affairs is resegregating Americans and, effective Thursday, discriminating along the way.

It’s fairly easy to be compassionate about military transgenders, who deserve VA health care as much as any other vet.

Dr. Megan McNamara already works with transgendered vets and has become the lead physician at the Cleveland clinic. She told this to Cleveland.com: “I feel there are a lot of transgender patients in the veteran population who haven’t been able to find the care they need. I really want to be able to provide comprehensive, one-stop care for those patients in a welcoming environment a place where they’re comfortable and accepted.”

Sometimes being comfortable around people who are not like you calls for you to be comfortable with yourself.

Segregation does not in and of itself lead to comfort zones and acceptance.

Allow these extreme examples:

Public housing segregates Americans by race and by class. “What do you expect when they grow up or live in the projects?”

Public VA clinics segregate Americans by gender. “Tell him to put his name on the waiting list. No, wait. He’s straight, so tell him we can’t help.”

The fictional cross-dressing Cpl. Klinger of “M*A*S*H,” a “do ask, do tell” kind of character, would have crafted a pair of rainbow-hued scissors in honor of a transgender-only medical unit. I’m not sure the late Louis Stokes — a black congressman, Army veteran and civil rights warrior — would support resegregating Americans.

Besides, it’s not as if the VA has its house in order. As we honored our military women and men on Veterans Day, we also learned that the VA awarded bonuses to more than 156,000 employees while greater demand for services, mismanagement and other problems led to a series of scandals at the agency involving delayed care, lost benefits claims and wasted resources.

At the Tomb of the Unknowns wreath-laying on Tuesday, President Obama couldn’t ignore the VA’s critical life-and-death problems: “The unacceptable problems that we’ve seen, like long wait times and some veterans not getting the timely care that they need, is a challenge for all of us if we are to match our words with deeds.”

Making sure veterans get the medical care they need is the VA’s health care mission No. 1. For trans women, that health care apparently includes female garments, hormone treatment and speech therapy — a la Bradley Manning, the Army soldier who, after being convicted of espionage and other crimes, has become Chelsea and wants to look the part.

That the VA and military have the medical expertise to tend to such issues is a good thing. The rub, however, is not that the VA is putting transgender care into a health care silo, but that transgendered patients are being segregated. Others are locked out.

Is the medical profession afraid that gender dysphoria, which Manning has, is contagious?

Are transgenders being discriminated against in the VA health care system?

Or is this segregation another way to placate an American demographic that feels uncomfortable in integrated settings?

Our laws, generally speaking, prohibit discrimination.

If we take our eyes off the VA’s real problems, like long waiting lines, mismanagement and delays in care, they will only worsen.

In the honor of all veterans, we mustn’t resegregate America — and we certainly shouldn’t resegregate public health care.

We need to stop trying to blur cultural lines.

Deborah Simmons can be reached at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.

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