Like many transgender children, Kaden Merrill knew from an early age that his gender was different than what he was assigned at birth.
At age 5, in Chandler, Ariz., Kaden asked his mom why he kept having dreams he was a boy.
“At the time, I didn’t know what to make of it and reached out to a friend of mine from the LGBTQ community,” said his mom Angelina Merrill. “When he was 10 he started having anxiety issues and our doctor felt we should start medicating him. That didn’t work.”
Then Kaden saw an episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show featuring a transgender person.
“I realized that’s what I was trying to express this whole time,” Kaden said. “I went to mom and told her I thought I was transgender.”
“It took me about three days to do the research and read up on it until I got it,” Angelina said. “From there it was just about figuring out how to love and support my kid. We started looking for counselors who had experience working with LGBTQ kids. During his first appointed, I went outside, and when I came back in, his counselor said he knows exactly who he is.”
From that day, Kaden and his mom took their story to the world in the hopes of creating better understanding about the experiences of transgender kids.
Kaden and his mom were featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show twice, 48 Hours, CBS News and the Discovery Channel. There have been stories on Huffington Post and in many other outlets across the country.
Five years ago, when Kaden was 20, the family moved to Oregon in the hopes of finding a more supportive community to set down some roots.
What they discovered is that while Oregon is on the forefront of LGBTQ equality nationally, transgender Oregonians still experience discrimination, particularly when trying to access health care.
“I am fortunate to have good health insurance through my mother’s employer,” he said. “When we moved here, I established a relationship with a primary care provider in Hillsboro. As a transgender man, I recognize I am still at risk for cervical cancer. Despite my repeated requests, my doctor told me I didn’t need a Pap screening. I continued to ask. After three years, my doctor acknowledged she did not know how to treat me and recommended I find another doctor.”
Kaden switched doctors and finally received a Pap screening. It came back positive for pre-cancerous cells. To prevent the spread of cancer, his physician recommended a hysterectomy, which he was prepared for, but his insurance provider denied treatment because it didn’t have a code that would allow a transgender man to have a hysterectomy.
In January, his mother changed jobs. They now have new insurance and a new doctor, Dr. Megan Bird of Legacy Health Systems (also on the Board of Basic Rights Oregon).
“Fortunately, I have a physician well-versed in serving transgender people. However, a recent Pap screening revealed the cancer cells have spread, making my need for a hysterectomy even more acute,” Kaden said. “It’s been two months, I am currently working with my health insurance provider to approve the procedure so the pre-cancerous cells can be removed.”
So as Kaden waits to get approval for surgery, he is working with Basic Rights Oregon, ACLU of Oregon, APANO, Family Forward Oregon, NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon, Oregon Latino Health Coalition, Planned Parenthood and Western States Center to help end health care discrimination against transgender Oregonians.
On March 15, he testified in the Oregon Legislature on HB 3391, the Reproductive Health Equity bill, which would ensure coverage for a full spectrum of reproductive health services regardless of income, citizenship status, gender identity and type of insurance.
Today, Kaden is sharing his story for a bill we’re sponsoring to reduce the number of insurance carriers who can deny coverage to a person based on their gender identity.
HB 3060 will help level the playing field and reduce discrimination in the workplace by requiring prospective contractors seeking contracts worth more than $150,000 with the state to certify that they have policies and practices that prohibit sexual harassment, sexual assault and discrimination. This includes a prohibition on denying benefits to an employee or their dependent based solely on their gender identity, if the employer provides benefits.