Transgender Woman Sues Catholic Hospital for Refusing Breast Augmentation Surgery

A transgender woman in California has gone to court, claiming that a Catholic-affiliated hospital discriminated against her when it denied her request for breast augmentation surgery.

The man-turned-woman, Charlene Hastings, filed the complaint in December and said she wants to have the surgery because it will make her look more feminine, but the hospital has refused to operate because she was not born a woman.

Hastings, who already has had one major sex-change surgery, claims that Seton Medical Center in Daly City, Calif., would not allow her plastic surgeon to operate on a transgender person.

"I honestly believe that God has plans for me to have this surgery," Hastings told

"I felt simply less than equal," she said. "Here I am, a woman. I had the reassignment surgery, and not to allow me this right, I felt violated."

Hastings, who was raised Catholic and says she attends church every Sunday, said the hospital told her that the surgery was not part of God's plan for her.

She filed the complaint in San Francisco Superior Court alleging harassment and discrimination on the basis of gender.

"She feels as if she's been treated as if she has no rights," said her attorney, Christopher Dolan.

The complaint alleges that Hastings suffered "shock, embarrassment, intimidation, physical distress and injury, humiliation, fear, stress and other damages." She is seeking unspecified monetary damages.

Click here to read the complaint. (pdf)

Hastings completed gender reassignment surgery in fall 2006 to become female at another hospital. Shortly after, she requested the breast augmentation surgery be performed at Seton Medical Center because her surgeon was affiliated with the hospital. The hospital denied her request and an official told her that "God made you a man," according to the complaint.

"Hastings said that they would not allow her to receive the services because they felt that she was born a man, so they would not assist her in this procedure that they offer," Dolan said.

Hastings said she doesn't plan to seek the surgery elsewhere because of her fear of being denied again.

Seton Medical Center, a member of the Daughters of Charity Health System — a regional health care system of five hospitals — is not commenting on the lawsuit.

But system spokeswoman Elizabeth Nikels said in a written statement that the organization follows hospital policy according to Catholic teaching: "Vincentian and Catholic values form the basis of our identity and set the parameters for our ethics and standards of behavior in health care."

The Catholic hospital does not allow transgender surgery, the statement says.

"Seton Medical Center, a Catholic hospital and a member of the Daughters of Charity Health System, provides services to all individuals. However, the hospital does not perform surgical procedures contrary to Catholic teaching; for example, abortion, direct euthanasia, transgender surgery or any of its related components."

Shannon Minter, legal director for the Center for Lesbian Rights and an expert on transgender rights, said California law protects Hastings.

"It's against California law, and it's wrong," Minter said. "They should be ashamed of themselves for turning away anybody because of their identity."

Minter said the Unruh Civil Rights Act protects Hastings against discrimination based on gender identity, adding that there is no exception for religious-affiliated businesses.

The act "provides protection from discrimination by all business establishments in California, including housing and public accommodations, because of age, ancestry, color, disability, national origin, race, religion, sex and sexual orientation."

The Catholic League, the nation's largest Catholic civil rights organization, supports the hospital's position.

"Catholic hospitals are not required to perform abortions, and neither should they be forced to perform transgender operations," said Catholic League President Bill Donohue.

Anita Silvers, a professor at San Francisco State University, said a hospital can determine what elective surgery can be done at its facility and can refuse to do transgender surgery if it’s too risky, the facility isn’t equipped to do it or the hospital doesn’t have enough resources.

Silvers said the case will test the Unruh Act and determine if the issue is about not allowing the surgery to Hastings based on other factors at the facility, or if the refusal is about Hastings alone.

"The Unruh Act created transgendered people as a protected class who cannot be refused service based on their being transgendered," Silvers wrote in an e-mail. "The issue is whether the refusal is about the surgery itself or about the patient herself."