Gathering touted as first LGBT health care conference in New Jersey

First a pledge, now a written policy from the Trump administration that some fear would allow discrimination against the LGBT community. In a 25-page memo, Attorney General Jeff Sessions wrote, “Religious liberty is not merely a right to personal religious beliefs … It encompasses religious observance and practice … no one should be forced to choose between living out his or her faith and complying with the law.”

“Make no mistake, this license to discriminate promotes widespread, state-sanctioned, taxpayer-funded discrimination,” Garden State Equality Executive Director Christian Fuscarino said.

“I think it’s just throwing red meat to the base because nothing else has been delivered on. This is easy to deliver on, you can just roll back these protections,” said Assemblyman Tim Eustace.

The criticism came in Bridgewater at a gathering touted as the first LGBT health care conference in New Jersey.

“We’re all the same. We get cancer. We get diabetes like anybody else, so why are we going to be treated differently? Because of our sexual orientation and gender identity? No,” said Jackie Baras, a nurse at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in Somerset.

Baras recently underwent sexual reassignment surgery in a state where LGBT people have had a history of challenges accessing health care.

“It’s about doing the right thing for everybody,” she said.

Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in Somerset was one of the organizers of the conference that was held at the Raritan Valley Country Club.

“We’re all the same. We get cancer. We get diabetes like anybody else, so why are we going to be treated differently? Because of our sexual orientation and gender identity? No.”

Tony Cava, the president of the hospital, said, “There should be the ability for all of us to receive health care unilaterally no matter what our sexual orientation is or anything of that nature and that’s what we want to do.”

In January, Robert Wood Johnson opened PROUD Family Health — the first specialized primary care center for the LGBT community, blazing a trail other providers might follow.

“My hope is that we don’t even have to think about it, that it just comes natural to us,” Cava said, “I’d like to think as health providers that we do the best for everybody, but when we drill down sometimes we miss those constituencies that are kind of marginalized.”

In the basement of the country club, the Philippine Nurses Association conduced health screenings for cholesterol, blood sugar levels and high blood pressure. Across the hall, Zufall Health offered screenings for HIV.

The community says they’re fighting disparity.

“Today, with over 200 people here, it’s important to us because we’re able to close those gaps so people in our community don’t need to travel to New York or Philadelphia to find the care and resources they need,” Fuscarino said.

Congressman Frank Pallone said the Trump administration was sabotaging the Affordable Care Act by eliminating 90 percent of outreach funding and failing to guarantee subsidies and the result is driving up health care costs.

Rutgers Law Professor Christina Ho said LGBT health care is under attack in the courts where religion is being used to challenge nondiscrimination laws.

“The plaintiffs argued that prohibiting them from denying transition-related services as a categorical exclusion would force them and their employees to engage in material cooperation with evil,” Ho said.

LGBT people say it’s been challenging enough just to get proper care, but attacks on care itself and access to care make a conference like this necessary.

“It’s bringing attention to the community and attention to the community at large. That’s to me a sad thing in a way because we clearly have not fully indoctrinated the LGBT community into societal of norms. And I think this is another step toward that awareness and leveling the playing field,” said Cava.

Advocates say a conference like this proves New Jersey is on the forefront of getting it right for LGBT people seeking equality.