Kings Junior High School student Nicki Chambers began her gender transition years ago, in first grade. Like many other students who are transgender, the idea of spending the majority of her day in the classroom with other kids could seem intimidating at times.

"Sometimes the less social, the better for me," she said. "Some days I'm just not feeling social."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, students in the LGBTQ community are at higher risk of being bullied by their classmates. For students like Chambers, the move to remote learning during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has provided an opportunity, said Nicki's parent, Kim Chambers.

Jaclyn Keller is a senior at Summit Academy in Middletown. She could relate to Nicki Chamber's anxiety over the social pressures of in-person schooling.

"People were asking me if I was gay and taking my things," said Keller, who began her transition when she was 13. "Later on, they started getting better at respecting me more."

"As she's becoming a teenager, experimenting with how she wants to look, a lot of things regarding transitioning are a lot easier to do at home," they said. "If something goes wrong with something that she's experimenting, it's not a big deal. She can keep her camera off for the day, and nobody will ever know the difference."

When asked if she has experienced any bullying since switching to remote learning, Keller said, "Not at all."

Kim Chambers' younger daughter, Briella, is also transgender, but for her, the remote learning experience has proven more a challenge than an opportunity.

"(Briella) really needs the social interaction to actually be in person, and it's been a struggle," Kim Chambers said. "Nicki is a lot more introverted, and Briella is a lot more extroverted."

Beyond general concerns over isolation, transgender students can face unique struggles when a pandemic demands social distancing and limited contact with friends outside one's household, said Dr. Elise Pine, a pediatrician who specializes in trans-youth issues.

"They're home and isolated and can't meet with friends, and it's been very difficult in terms of depression and anxiety and struggling," Pine said.

Pine's advice for anyone struggling with such isolation right now: Find someone to talk to. Parents of a child struggling with gender issues should make sure they have an outlet where they feel safe.

If you or someone you know is struggling with gender identity or a mental health crisis, help is available. The Trevor Project specializes in providing support for young people who are transgender and can be reached by phone 24/7 at 1-866-488-7386. Call 1-800-273-8255 any time to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The Crisis Text Line is available 24/7 at 741-741 for those who might be uncomfortable with a phone call.

A bill that would require assessment from the state auditor about the social and financial impacts that occur when health insurance companies deny coverage for certain types of health care to individuals based on gender identity cleared another legislative hurdle Tuesday.

An amended version of House Bill 285 was passed unanimously without further amendments by the House Committee on Consumer Protection.

The measure has one more hurdle to clear in the House, the Committee on the Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs, before it can move to the Senate for consideration.

As of Wednesday, the committee hadn’t scheduled a hearing on the legislation.


A bill requiring an assessment by the state auditor of the social and financial impacts that occur when health insurance companies deny coverage for certain types of health care to individuals based on gender identity is advancing in the state House.

The bill has generated about 75 pages of written testimony — the vast majority in favor.

The latest version of House Bill 285 is scheduled for a 2 p.m. hearing today by the House Consumer Protection and Commerce Committee via videoconference.

The original version of the bill would have prohibited the denial of coverage to individuals for the purpose of gender transition if the policy would cover the requested procedure for other purposes.

For example, procedures that are a part of gender transition but have other purposes include hormone therapies, hysterectomies and mastectomies.

The bill unanimously passed Feb. 9 — with amendments, including the requirement of the audit — by the Committee on Health, Human Services and Homelessness.

The measure was introduced by Rep. Adrian Tam, a Democrat and openly gay legislator representing the Honolulu district that includes Ala Moana and Waikiki.

Three Big Island Democrats signed on as co-sponsors — Nicole Lowen, who represents North Kona; Jeanne Kapela, whose district stretches from Kailua-Kona to Naalehu; and David Tarnas, whose district includes a portion of North Kona, plus North and South Kohala.

“The Legislature finds that many transgender persons have experienced discriminatory treatment from health care insurance providers when seeking coverage for gender-confirming treatments,” the bill states, and posits that “transgender persons who are denied treatment are at a higher risk of suicide and depression.”

“The Legislature recognizes that, while federal health care guidelines previously prohibited health insurance and health care providers from discriminating on the basis of gender identity, these protections have been largely rolled back,” the measure continues.

The original bill was opposed by Hawaii Medical Insurance Association — the state’s largest health insurer — which requested the auditor’s assessment.

“Should this bill move forward, we respectfully request that the impact assessment be conducted first since it creates new mandated benefits that increase costs for our members,” said Matthew W. Sasaki, HMSA’s director of governmental relations.

In addition to HMSA, only one individual testified against the measure.

Providing commentary for the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, Colin Hayashida, the state’s insurance commissioner, pointed out the statutory requirement that an auditor’s assessment be performed before provisions of the bill become law.

Hayashida said state law requires the auditor’s report to assess “the extent to which insurance coverage of the health care service or provider can be reasonably expected to increase or decrease the insurance premium and administrative expenses of policyholders.”

“If this bill is a new mandate, the department recommends adding language to the bill that would require the auditor’s report to assess the additional cost of a proposed mandate that may be subject to defrayal,” Hayashida added.

Hayashida also pointed out that the language in the original bill didn’t include health maintenance organizations such as the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan in its coverage requirements.

Kaiser, while not taking a position, also pointed to the statutory requirement for the impact assessment.

Lowen said she supports “the intent of it, which is to figure out if there’s been certain health care that’s … been denied to transgender individuals that should be covered.”

“Looking into it, I think an audit is a good place to start,” she said.

Beverly Yates-Tese, president of Hawaii Island LGBTQ Pride, said in a statement to the Tribune-Herald it “supports the right for everyone to have access to medical care.”

“This extends to all LGBTQ+ individuals and the care they need to be whole,” Yates-Tese said. “Whether it be transgender services, mental health care, family practice, or access to all emergency care. Insurance companies should be concerned with the health of the community as a whole. By providing and covering treatment for people of all identities they will greatly improve health outcomes and reduce the risks for an already high-risk population.”

Greg Lupton, Hawaii Island LGBTQ Pride’s treasurer, told the Tribune-Herald, “If we’re even talking about the personal and financial impact on transgender folk, it needs to be talked about. It needs to be investigated.”

“And if auditing is a way they’re going to investigate it … I think they’re going to find that we’d be a helluva lot better off as a state if these procedures were made more easily accessible to people,” Lupton said.

Organizations in favor of the legislation include the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, Pride at Work – Hawaii, Af3irm Hawaii, the Lavender Clinic and Malama I Ke Ola Health Center.

WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWNY) - A transgender Watertown woman has filed a federal lawsuit against Jefferson County Sheriff Colleen O’Neill, Watertown police chief Charles Donoghue and others, claiming she was improperly arrested, and then harassed and sexually assaulted.

DeAnna LeTray, 54, claims in the lawsuit that the abuse took place because she is a transgender woman.

“I never want anyone to go through the abuse I experienced from people that were supposed to protect me,” she said in a statement.

“Watertown law enforcement and Jefferson County Jail staff must be held accountable for their actions. The abuses that police and jail staff across New York state commit against transgender New Yorkers must end.”

The lawsuit was filed Monday in federal district court in Syracuse. It is LeTray’s latest attempt to hold law enforcement accountable for what she claims happened on September 28, 2017. An earlier effort to get the state’s Division of Human Rights to investigate failed.

LeTray claims that when police were called to a domestic incident involving members of LeTray’s household, a Watertown police officer made disparaging remarks about her gender identity and stated that he arrested her because “we can’t let you walk the streets looking and dressed like that,” dressed like a woman.

LeTray was charged with criminal mischief, 4th degree and because a small amount of the street drug “molly” was found in her purse, criminal possession of a controlled substance, 7th degree. The charges were later reduced to violations.

The lawsuit claims at the police station officers ripped off LeTray’s hair, as they considered her “a man dressed as a woman,” and later at the jail she was stripped naked and subjected to an invasive cavity search.

The suit argues that, in addition to targeting LeTray for discriminatory treatment based on her gender identity, the jail has an unconstitutional policy mandating strip searches for all people brought in by the police, regardless of whether such a search is justified.

“Jefferson County and the City of Watertown’s policies subject every person arrested and detained by the Watertown City Police to a degrading and humiliating strip search before they have ever been in front of a Judge” said Josh Cotter, staff attorney at Legal Services of Central New York.

As a result of her treatment, LeTray claims, she suffers from “severe anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress and panic attacks.”

The lawsuit seeks money - the amount to be determined at trial - correcting the various police and jail records to “properly identify Ms. LeTray as a woman, not a man” and deleting her booking photo, which showed LeTray without her hairpiece.

Besides O’Neill and Donoghue, the suit names as defendants Jefferson County, the City of Watertown, city police sergeant George Cummings, officers Samuel White and Virginia Kelly, now-retired jail administrator Kristopher Spencer, jail employee Joel Dettmer and four people identified only as “John Does 1-4.”

Neither the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department nor the Watertown Police had any comment Tuesday morning. We reached out to city attorney Robert Slye for comment as well; if we hear back from him we’ll update this story.

Friends gathered on Sunday to hold a memorial for a transgender woman who was killed in Jackson last month. Dominique Jackson, 30, was found shot to death inside of her car on Rose Street on January 25.

Those who knew Jackson said her death highlights the need for Mississippi lawmakers to expand the state’s hate crime law to include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected categories.

“We just want the fact where laws like hate crime bills are being passed and stuff, including gender, sexual orientation and just disability alone could help the city to survive and to strive, said Laneyana Henderson, a friend of Jackson.

Lawmakers proposed House Bill 353 this year. It would have revised the delineation of classes of victims, triggering an enhanced penalty for a hate crime. The bill died in committee earlier this month.

As for Jackson’s case, police have not identified a suspect at this time.

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