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How does Illinois compare to other states on transgender rights?

Iggy Ladden, a co-founder of Chicago Therapy Collective, stands in front of a mural in Andersonville honoring Elise Malary, a transgender activist who went missing and was found dead in Lake Michigan last year.

CHICAGO — Illinois has billed itself as a healthcare oasis for transgender people.

According to the Movement Advancement Project, 21 states have banned gender-affirming medicine for trans youth. In response, Illinois passed a law this year protecting patients and providers who cross into the state for care.

Iggy Ladden is the executive director of the Chicago Therapy Collective, a mental health and advocacy organization for LGBTQ+ people. They are transgender and nonbinary. 

Illinois Public Media interviewed Ladden about the state of trans rights in Illinois as part of our series, Flights and Freedoms. 

The interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

[Illinois Public Media]: Over the past year, we’ve seen a lot of states, especially in the Midwest and the South, limit gender-affirming care for minors, and in some cases for adults. Where does Illinois stand in terms of trans rights?

[Iggy Ladden]: Illinois is compared to the rest of the United States, a leader on the trans rights front and the access to trans healthcare front.

We’re seeing more and more clients reaching out across state lines for support. Gov. Pritzker and our General Assembly have done a really good job to make sure Illinois can be a safe haven. That means that Illinois does not tolerate there being any sort of penalty or criminalization of a person or a family that’s crossing state lines in order to access trans-affirming health care.

Then for residents within the state, our General Assembly and the governor have done a lot to ensure that there’s health care equity for trans folks. We were already pretty solid on that front, and then in 2019, Pritzker expanded Medicaid coverage to trans folks. We have found that trans folks are disproportionately unemployed or underemployed, so having that public funding available for health care was key.

[IPM]: Do you have any sense of how many people have moved here due to Illinois’ laws on trans rights? 

[IL]: I wish that I did. We’ve wondered that ourselves. Most of our knowledge about this increase is just anecdotal stories from our partner agencies and organizations.

[IPM]: When you and your partner organizations talk to people coming to Illinois for gender-affirming care, what reasons do they give? 

[IL]: A significant number of those seeking health care are here because of state bans in their own states. 

And then there’s such an issue with providers, being willing to or being educated enough to provide trans-affirming care. We definitely find that even in Illinois and even in Chicago. There are providers who are really not sure what trans-affirming care means or looks like. And that is a big part of access. 

Access is not only about coverage. It’s not only about our laws. It’s about having culturally competent healthcare providers available to provide care.

[IPM]: What are the top issues you hear about that are more likely to affect trans people of color than their white peers?

[IL]: Any issue that impacts LGBTQ people and trans people, that issue is going to be more severe for our trans and queer community members of color. 

We find that trans and queer people of color are far more likely to be discriminated against in the workplace – denied promotions, fired from jobs, and also not hired in the first place. That is something we focus on a lot for trans folks in general, but it’s really bad for trans women of color, especially black and Latina trans women. 

Also, within healthcare settings, 25% of trans people hesitate to go to the doctor at all.

[Note from the editor: A 2015 survey done by the National Center for Transgender Equality found over a third of American Indian and Middle Eastern respondents said they avoided going to the doctor for fear of being mistreated as a trans person – the most of any subgroup.] 

[IPM]: This week is National Transgender Awareness Week, which seeks to increase understanding about trans people and the issues they face. How would you like our audience to participate? 

[IL]: For the last five years, our organization has hosted a Trans Day of Resilience. This is the first year we have decided not to do that. 

We recently lost one of our founders, Elise Malary. We still don’t know how Elise died. Her body was pulled out of Lake Michigan in 2022. 

As a trans-led organization, we’re often the ones creating the spaces of mourning for our own community members and creating the call to action to improve the lives of trans community members. 

But this year, we’re taking a pause to really focus on healing for ourselves and rest for ourselves, focusing on what we need. 

I would ask folks to really think this year – what could you do for trans people? On this Trans Day of Remembrance, what kind of action might you be able to take? Whether that’s within your own workplace, signing on to Hire Trans Now to make that commitment. Or within your own family and social circle, just noticing how you’re talking about trans people. What’s some small action that you can take to share some of the burden and responsibility for creating a more trans-affirming world for all of us?

As part of IPM’s Flights and Freedoms series, we’re talking to those pushing for change in Illinois’ schools, doctors’ offices, and churches. Find the other stories in the series on ipmnewsroom.org. 

Emily Hays is a reporter for Illinois Public Media. Follow her on Twitter@amihatt.

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Emily Hays

Emily Hays

Emily Hays started at WILL in October 2021 after three-plus years in local newsrooms in Virginia and Connecticut. She has won state awards for her housing coverage at Charlottesville Tomorrow and her education reporting at the New Haven Independent. Emily graduated from Yale University where she majored in History and South Asian Studies.

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