Skyler Jay, a University of Georgia employee, poses for a portrait in front of the courthouse in downtown Athens, Georgia, on Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2019. Jay is suing the university for excluding gender reassignment surgery and treatment in its BlueCross BlueShield of Georgia healthcare plans. The case was heard in federal court and reached no verdict. (Photo/Erin Schilling, eschilling@randb.com)

Since Skyler Jay was a student at the University of Georgia about a decade ago, he has been working to increase trans inclusivity at the school.

Effective Sept. 1, a policy that affects the transgender community in all 26 schools in the University System of Georgia was changed due to a lawsuit filed by Jay.

Jay, a UGA employee, found that the USG healthcare policy did not include trans health, including gender reassignment surgery. He sued USG and his insurance company, BlueCross BlueShield of Georgia, saying it discriminates against transgender people.

He settled the lawsuit with USG, removing the trans coverage exclusions immediately and getting a $100,000 settlement. Jay was represented by Noah Lewis of Transcend Legal which works to get transgender-related healthcare covered under insurance.

“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,” USG spokesperson Jen Ryan said in an email.

Jay paid $16,200 for his gender reassignment surgery since the procedure was not covered by health insurance. He said the monetary settlement from USG will cover his legal fees and some of his medical and student debt, though not all.

Jay, a former guest star of the Netflix show “Queer Eye,” said he’s relieved with this outcome.

“This chapter of my life has been going on for a very long time, and it’s coming to a close in a way that’s helping a lot of other people,” Jay said.

Because the parties agreed on a settlement rather than wait for a judge’s ruling, the decision to remove the trans health exclusions from the USG healthcare policies will not create any precedent for other public organizations in the district.

Jay, however, said a good settlement is better than a bad ruling, and he’s happy to have affected the higher education institutions in USG.

The case was heard in federal court in February in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia. The lawsuit alleged USG’s exclusions of trans healthcare constituted sex- and gender-based discrimination and violated the 14th Amendment because it treats a class of individuals differently based on their gender.

Jay believes the case ending in a settlement shows that USG is moving toward more LGBTQ inclusivity without being forced by a judge.

“The university likes to tote it’s an inclusive environment, and I challenged that,” Jay said. “So for them to make the decision of their own volition to remove the exclusion without the judge saying they have to, that is a nod to show the university is moving toward inclusivity.”

While an undergraduate at UGA, Jay said he worked to get gender identity included on UGA Equal Opportunity Office’s list of protected statuses under the Non-Discrimination and Anti-Harassment Policy. As an employee, he took on the USG’s healthcare policies. Now, he plans to take a break from activism and take some time for himself.

But that doesn’t mean Jay won’t be helping people who reach out to him for advice and support. He’s still an activist for his community, he said.

“I’m hoping to be able to utilize my platform and continue to help other people in similar lawsuits who have reached out to me all over the nation,” Jay said.

Lewis, Jay’s lawyer and the executive director of Transcend Legal, is now moving to represent a Houston County, sheriff’s deputy in Perry, according to NPR.

A lawsuit was filed in federal court on Wednesday, Oct. 3 to sue the Houston County Board of Commissioners for a healthcare exclusion of gender-affirmation surgery, which is the latest in the U.S. to challenge trans healthcare exclusions, NPR reported.

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