DENVER – The ACLU of Colorado filed a lawsuit on behalf of an 18-year-old transgender patient of Children’s Hospital Colorado (CHCO), alleging that the hospital violated state anti-discrimination laws when it stopped providing medically necessary surgeries to transgender patients over the age of 18 without warning, notice, or plans for ensuring continuity of care. The plaintiff, who is proceeding under the pseudonym Caden Kent to protect his privacy, had just received insurance authorization for a procedure at CHCO when it adopted the exclusionary policy and refused to move forward with his care.    

For many transgender people, gender-affirming surgical care is medically necessary and can be life-saving. It is evidence-based, safe care that effectively treats gender dysphoria and can alleviate its most serious symptoms, including severe emotional distress and suicidal ideation.  

“CHCO’s abrupt cancellation of all gender-affirming surgeries for its trans patients was devastating to Caden, other impacted patients, and Colorado’s transgender community,” said Tim Macdonald, ACLU of Colorado Legal Director. “Refusal to provide medically necessary care based on the identity of the person seeking it, and the condition for which they are seeking it, is discriminatory and illegal under the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act.” 

According to the complaint, CHCO has no similar ban when patients seek the same procedures for reasons other than treatment of gender dysphoria. 

The complaint also states that CHCO provides care to non-pediatric patients in certain circumstances and had previously provided medically necessary surgeries to transgender young adults being treated for gender dysphoria at CHCO before they turned 18. Before its abrupt change in policy, CHCO was one of the few medical facilities in Colorado where transgender patients unable to pay out-of-pocket could access treatment with their insurance.  

With the support of his family, Caden began receiving care at CHCO for his gender dysphoria several years ago. His life improved tremendously with treatment. Later, he began consulting with his CHCO care team about seeking gender-affirming surgery once he turned 18. After more than eight months of consultation and individualized assessment, CHCO determined Caden was an appropriate candidate for surgery and such treatment was medically necessary. Caden was on track to be scheduled for the procedure, but on the same day he submitted an insurance authorization letter — the final step before his surgery date could be set — a CHCO physician’s assistant notified him that under new CHCO policy, effective immediately, his procedure could not move forward.   

The complaint asserts that CHCO violated the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act by denying Caden full and equal access to care on the basis of sex, gender identity, gender expression, and disability.  

“Caden came forward to protect other transgender people from the discrimination he experienced,” said Emma Mclean-Riggs, ACLU of Colorado Staff Attorney. “Transgender people have the right to access necessary medical care, without fear that they may be denied that care because of who they are. Medical providers should ensure their policies and practices are non-discriminatory or prepare to be held accountable in court.”  

In addition to Macdonald and Mclean-Riggs, the legal team includes ACLU of Colorado attorneys Sara Neel and Annie Kurtz.