Transgender man sues Eureka hospital for turning him away minutes before gender-confirming surgery

Oliver Knight was thoroughly prepared to undergo a hysterectomy, having consulted with his surgeon before scheduling the surgery for late August 2017.

He completed pre-operative procedures and upon arrival at St. Joseph Hospital in Eureka was asked to put on a pink hospital gown and booties. Now, his doctor would remove his uterus and Knight would complete another step in his journey as a transgender man.

But after about an hour of Knight waiting while he was hooked up to an IV on a hospital bed, his doctor called the surgery off, according to a lawsuit Knight and the American Civil Liberties Union filed against St. Joseph Health Northern California. The suit was filed Thursday in Humboldt County Superior Court.


Knight, shocked and in tears, asked if the reason was because he was transgender. His doctor replied simply: “Yes,” according to the complaint.

The ACLU alleges the hospital discriminated against Knight when they refused to perform the hysterectomy, because they routinely performed the procedure on other non-transgender patients. Their decision, according to the lawsuit, is a violation of the Unruh Civil Rights Act, which prohibits businesses from discriminating against patrons, including on the basis of sex, gender identity and gender expression.

“I didn’t understand how this could be happening,” Knight said in an ACLU blog post. “The Catholic bishops didn’t approve of my surgery. It seemed unreal.”

Through an ACLU representative, Knight declined an interview with The Times.

Knight said in the suit that the experience caused severe emotional distress and anxiety and is suing for unspecified damages, including attorney fees.

Since childhood, Knight felt something was amiss with his body, he said in the blog post. Eventually, he was diagnosed with gender dysphoria, which is classified as a medical condition in which a person’s gender identity and sex don’t match, the suit states.

Knight worked for years to affirm his gender, including by taking testosterone and having a double mastectomy, Knight said in the blog post.

His next step was to have a hysterectomy, which is performed on transgender men looking to affirm their gender and women who are diagnosed with various health conditions, including endometriosis, chronic pelvic pain and gynecological cancer. Once the procedure is completed, patients can no longer become pregnant.

It was Knight’s surgeon, Dr. Deepak Stokes, who suggested a hysterectomy as treatment for Knight’s diagnosis, according to the lawsuit. He regularly performed the surgery at St. Joseph Hospital, the suit states.

After his doctor informed him he would not perform the surgery, Knight said he began having an anxiety attack. He was given the anti-anxiety medication Ativan while at the hospital, and then asked to leave, still wearing his hospital booties.

”I felt humiliated and queasy as I sat on the curb waiting for my roommate to pick me up,” he said in the blog post.

The hospital justified denying Knight the surgery by saying that it did “not meet [its] parameters for a sterilization,” the complaint said.

According to the lawsuit, all Catholic health care facilities, including St. Joseph Hospital, is required to follow policies created by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The policies state that “direct sterilization” is “intrinsically evil” and to be performed only when it “alleviates a present and serious pathology.”

The complaint quotes the Catholic organization saying: “Claiming that this is a civil-rights matter and encouraging surgical intervention is in reality to collaborate with and promote a mental disorder.”

But one of Knight’s attorneys took issue with the hospital’s position.

“Gender affirming care is lifesaving and medically necessary,” Elizabeth Gill, one of Knight’s attorneys said in a prepared statement. “Transgender people are part of our community, our workplaces, and our neighborhoods and they, just like everyone else, deserve to get the health care they need.”

A St. Joseph Health representative said the health care facility had not yet reviewed the suit.

“At St. Joseph Health, we believe health care is a basic human right and that every individual seeking care should always be treated with compassion and respect,” said spokeswoman Elizabeth Brophy in an emailed statement. “We are committing our full attention to investigating this matter.”

Twitter: @r_valejandra