When the coronavirus pandemic first spread to Rochester, Penny Sterling wanted to know how she would be counted if she contracted the virus.
The data tracking who has contracted COVID-19 is broken down by male or female. Sterling doesn’t fit that mold. She’s a transgender woman.
In recent months, New York state changed its policy and added a third option on paper coronavirus test forms: “Other.”
“Quite frankly, it’s better than nothing, but only nothing is it better than,” said Sterling. “As someone who’s constantly being ‘othered,’ it’s kind of disheartening to see it as an official category.”
There are between 1 million and 2 million transgender people in the U.S., according to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Williams Institute, UCLA’s public policy think tank that focuses research on sexual orientation and gender identity matters.
Dr. Asa Radix, who goes by the pronoun “they,” is the senior director of research and education at the Callen-Lorde Community Health Center, which serves LGBTQ patients in New York City.
They said when it comes to public health, “other” doesn’t provide enough information for researchers either, especially for a marginalized demographic. They said that collecting data on sexual orientation and gender identity, along with the usual data about race, ethnicity, and age, can help pinpoint possible disparities.
“It’s awful when we see people dying or getting impacted by infectious diseases including COVID and nobody’s counting them,” said Radix.
The New York State Department of Health says it plans to add more options on electronic health forms, one about sex assigned at birth, another about current gender identity. However, there is no question about sexual orientation.
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