As president of the only support center in Bay County that caters to LGBTQ Floridians, one of my jobs is to find resources for people who face difficulties due to discrimination. It's a job I take very seriously.
We're living in a time when our collective society's well being relies on every person following safety measures, including being able to see a doctor. So we must ensure that no one faces barriers to care. Unfortunately, discrimination in health care is very common in our community. And the COVID pandemic has only made it worse.
The LGBTQ Center of Bay County was founded in 2018. Shortly after the opening I had a medical wake up call. At 55, I had a health crisis and ended up needing a pacemaker and defibrillator. While recuperating I couldn't help wonder, "If I die, what will I have left behind? What will I have done for this world?" Those thoughts led me to create the LGBTQ Center.
We support LGBTQ folks young and old and they in turn serve the larger community. Staffed exclusively with volunteers, we sponsor food disbursements, assist people with micro-loans, provide clothing and essential items to those in need, and help find resources for people in crisis.
Perhaps because of my own medical vulnerabilities, I found myself noticing that so many of our people were unable to access adequate health care, especially the transgender folks.
After some local research and questioning I realized that we don't have a single doctor in the county that will provide primary care to transgender patients, even just to give them a complete physical exam. At one point, a volunteer and I wrote, spoke, to or visited every urologist and gynecologist in the county and asked if we could send transgender patients to them. They all said no.
Sometimes they'd say, "We don't want freaky people in the waiting room." I'd ask if they'd see patients just one day a month and they said: "Word gets out to other patients and we don't want to lose business." Some would say they didn't have the training to deal with transgender patients. So I would suggest a simple seminar. None were interested, they still said no.
Florida is an epicenter of the pandemic, and refusing someone treatment isn't just thoughtless neglect -- it is outright unconscionable. Yet surprisingly, it's legal.
We're one of 29 states across the country that does not have comprehensive statewide nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people. I know we need to change hearts and minds, find paths of mutual understanding, but, we cannot wait. While we do that work, the bottom line is, we need legal protections.
The best solution would be a comprehensive federal nondiscrimination law. It would literally save lives and show that our government is committed to providing safety to all Americans. It would help create safe spaces, safe schools, safe businesses, and safe communities.
I hope Senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott know it is their responsibility to see to it that all Flordians have the long and overdue, full and enduring protections against discrimination. It is their mandate to protect all of the people. Now is the time to act.
Congress must pass clear, comprehensive, and secure nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ Americans in all 50 states. All Americans, including LGBTQ people, should be protected from discrimination in housing, health care, education, public spaces, credit, and federally-funded programs.
Equality is not a Democrat or Republican value, it's an American value.
Cindy Wilker of Panama City, Bay County Fla. is president of the LGBTQ Center of Bay County. Wilker is a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps. and is a retired finance professional who previously practiced in New York City and Chicago.