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Georgia university system agrees to cover transgender healthcare

Former 'Queer Eye' hero credited for policy change after filing federal lawsuit

ATHENS, Ga. — Transgender employees who work at universities in Georgia will now receive healthcare under the state university system’s insurance plan.

The policy changes come after Skyler Jay, a catering manager at the University of Georgia, filed a federal lawsuit against the University System of Georgia last year. 

The lawsuit claimed the University System of Georgia's employee insurance health plan discriminated against its transgender employees because it excluded covering transgender medical care.

A few weeks ago, the University System of Georgia and Jay agreed to a settlement that removed the exclusion. The changes went into effect on September 1.

“Honestly, it means the world to me. It means, for me, life-saving access to care. It means other people who have reached out to me for life-saving access to care,” said Jay in Athens on Monday.

RELATED: Queer Eye 'Hero' sues UGA after insurance refuses to cover gender transition surgery

“The University System of Georgia (USG) reached a mutually agreeable resolution with our employee and the applicable exclusions have been removed from USG’s Consumer Choice HSA, Comprehensive Care, and BlueChoice HMO Healthcare Plans in order to cover medically necessary healthcare expenses,” said Jen Ryan, Vice-Chancellor of Communications in an email to 11Alive.

11Alive profiled Jay’s lawsuit in an episode of The Reveal this past March.

For Jay, the settlement is the end of a four-year fight with UGA to obtain insurance that covers his transgender medical care. When he first reached out to the university, he asked if the school had a health insurance plan that covered gender dysphoria, a condition recognized by the American Psychiatric Association. It did not. 

“It was very stressful and there are definite parts of it that feel like I have some sort of PTSD from it, honestly,” said Jay.

According to the UK's Department of Health and Social Care, gender dysphoria is a condition where a person experiences discomfort or distress because there's a mismatch between their biological sex and gender identity. It's sometimes known as gender incongruence. Biological sex is assigned at birth, depending on the appearance of the genitals. 

Jay undergoes hormone treatments, and other medical care, to transition from female to male.

Last summer, the hit Netflix show, "Queer Eye," featured Skyler and followed his transition. The Athens resident now uses his platform to advocate for transgender rights.

The settlement only covers employees who work at Georgia universities. The state and most local governments still exclude transgender health care from its insurance plans.

That includes Houston County, where Anna Lang works as a criminal investigator. Lang is transitioning from male to female.  

“I mean, I just didn’t wake up five years ago or three years and go, I think this would be loads of fun to do. I mean, it’s just, I mean, it’s been brutal,” said Lang in an interview this past February.

Jay plans to keep fighting until all transgender employees in Georgia are covered by insurance, but he’s celebrating the settlement as a step in the right direction. “It’s still a win for the community in a southern state that desperately needed a win.“

Skyler received $100,000 as part of the settlement. While federal judges have ruled in favor of transgender public employees in other parts of the country, Skyler and his attorney did not believe they would have received a favorable ruling in this circuit.

Tomorrow in Macon, a law firm representing a transgender public employee plans to announce another federal lawsuit for denying coverage of transgender-related health care.

The Reveal is an investigative show exposing inequality, injustice, and ineptitude created by people in power throughout Georgia and across the country. It airs Sunday nights at 6 on 11Alive. 

More of The Reveal:

‘Born out of wedlock’ policy used to deny 1-year-old citizenship, because her parents are gay

Family pushes for change after nursing aides' Snapchat video mocks dying mother

Underground network brings medical marijuana to Georgia residents, and it's legal

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