TRENTON, N.J. – A transgender man sued a Roman Catholic hospital in New Jersey on Thursday after he says it cited religion in refusing to allow his surgeon to perform a hysterectomy procedure he said was medically necessary as part of his gender transition.
Jionni Conforti's sex and gender discrimination lawsuit comes at the same time as new regulations hailed as groundbreaking anti-discrimination protections for transgender individuals have come under legal attack from religious groups.
Conforti, 33, of Totowa, had scheduled the surgery at St. Joseph's Regional Medical Center in Paterson in 2015. But he alleges in the federal lawsuit that a hospital administrator then told him the procedure to remove the uterus he was born with couldn't be done because it was a "Catholic hospital."
"I felt completely disrespected as a person," said Conforti, whose transition began in 2004. "That's not how any hospital should treat any person regardless of who they are. A hospital is a place where you should feel safe and taken care of. Instead I felt like I was rejected and humiliated."
A spokesman for the hospital said Thursday he hadn't yet seen the lawsuit and wasn't able to comment.
The lawsuit comes less than a week after a federal judge in Texas ordered a halt to new U.S. Health and Human Services regulations that had been set to go into effect Jan. 1 to bar certain forms of transgender discrimination by doctors, hospitals and insurers.
Civil rights groups had hailed the new health rules as groundbreaking, but five states, a Christian medical association and an Indiana-based network of religious hospitals sued. Judge Reed O'Connor ruled Saturday that religious hospitals would be forced to violate their religious beliefs or risk severe consequences if they didn't change their policies.
Another legal challenge to regulations that Catholic hospitals say would force them to perform gender transitioning procedures and abortions was filed in federal court last week in North Dakota by a group of Catholic businesses and organizations, including the Catholic Benefits Association and diocese of Fargo, North Dakota.
Opponents say the regulation creates a moral problem for Catholic employers and religious groups. They say Pope Francis has reiterated that Catholic teachings oppose theories that gender is alterable.
"While initiating a lawsuit is not something we take lightly, this new mandate represents a grave threat to religious freedom," said Bishop John Folda, of the Fargo diocese.
In New Jersey, Conforti said that a nurse in charge of surgery confirmed the procedure could be scheduled, but that his doctor was told a week later it wouldn't be allowed because it was for gender reassignment.
An email cited in the lawsuit from the hospital's director of mission services, Father Martin Rooney, said that it couldn't allow the surgery because it was a Catholic hospital. A phone message seeking comment from Rooney wasn't immediately returned.
The denial came despite the fact that the hospital's "patient bill of rights" guarantees medical services without discrimination based on "gender identity or expression."
Conforti said he felt betrayed and became depressed after the hospital's decision. While he had the procedure performed three months later at a different hospital, Conforti said he's pursuing the lawsuit so that no one else has to go through what he did. Conforti, who is seeking monetary damages and to require the hospital perform any needed medical care for transgender patients, cites the problem of suicide in the transgender community.
"Anything can trigger that. Something may seem small, but to a trans person, it's not," he said. "This is a big thing that happened. I want it to change. I don't want other trans people to have to go through and feel what I felt."