Kelly Shortandqueer on zines, storytelling and his transgender insurance-claim victory
Kelly Shortandqueer has been a staple in Denver's creative community for over a decade. As a co-founder of the Denver Zine Library, a square dancer with the Rocky Mountain Rainbeaus, a victims' advocate for the Colorado Anti-Violence Program and, most recently, an award-winning drag queen, he has no shortage of ambitious projects under his belt. But using Colorado nondiscrimination law to win insurance coverage for his April 2013 chest surgery has been a landmark victory in equal rights-access for transgender people across the state. In advance of Shortandqueer's free July 23 workshop on his win at the Colorado Anti-Violence Program, Westword caught up with him to discuss the Denver Zine Library's move, storytelling and the future of transgender health access.
Courtesy of Kelly Shortandqueer
Westword: Talk about your creative work and all the things you've been up to lately.
Kelly Shortandqueer: I'm one of the co-founders, volunteers and zine librarians at the Denver Zine Library. We've been around a little over ten years and have a collection of over 15,000 zines. We just moved to a new location at 2400 Curtis Street. We're not quite open yet, but we will be announcing our grand opening very shortly. I am a volunteer with the Colorado Anti-Violence Program and will be doing a workshop Wednesday about transgender-inclusive health care. I write zines. My zine is called Shortandqueer, and I have seventeen issues currently. I square dance with The Rocky Mountain Rainbeaus, which is an LGBTQ square dance club in Denver. Through that, as part of the International Association of Gay Square Dance Clubs, I was just crowned Honey-Tonk Queen at our annual convention in Salt Lake City last weekend.
Talk about your workshop for the Colorado Anti-Violence Program.
In April of 2013, I had chest reconstruction, or top surgery. At the time, I had been denied insurance coverage by my insurance provider, which was not surprising to me. I ended up embarking on an appeals process and working to fight the decision and ultimately ended up winning and having top surgery covered, which is amazing.
Because people have such a low expectation around health care, a lot of people don't take that first step to actually access it. For those of us who do, to some extent, when we're being denied coverage, it's not surprising. It's been exciting that recently there has been a shift in terms of coverage access. It involves a lot of self-advocacy and community advocacy. This workshop coming up is just an opportunity for me to share my experience. Though there is not going to be a how-to checklist, hopefully it will start building skills in the community about how to do this work.
Talk about what that process of self-advocacy looked like for you.
I was really lucky to have some advocates who could help me navigate all of it. I'm someone who feels fairly well-resourced. I used to run a crisis hotline at the Colorado Anti-Violence Program. I have a lot of training around crisis intervention and advocacy. I was surprised by how difficult it still felt to be on the side of having to do that for myself. I think that having other folks who were able to help walk through the process and explain things, whether that was being able to answer questions or just offer moral support, I think that's really helpful. There was some accountability piece for me doing it and having other people involved in the process that had me on track.
Were you doing your advocacy through letters or conversations?
I met with a few folks in person who were able to walk me through the process, in terms of filing complains and what agencies I should be reaching out to. I also had someone, through my work, who was able to help me figure out what the process looked like in terms of appealing with my own insurance company. A lot of that was done through e-mail.
I had a high deductible plan. When I assumed that I wouldn't get coverage, I went ahead and paid out of pocket. Once I went through the appeals process, what ended up happening is that my initial appeal was denied. Then because of some of the other complaints that I had done, there was an investigation. Ultimately, I argued that denying me coverage is in violation of Colorado's nondiscrimination statute and through the investigation, they overturned the denial and decided to cover the procedure.
The tricky part beyond all of that was then having to go through and deal with all of the reimbursements and figure out how much they owed, because I had paid to multiple providers. Again, that was another piece that I hadn't thought about, that once I won the appeal, I'd have to navigate that next piece around the reimbursements.
How does this case impact other people's cases in Colorado?
It's a little bit unclear how my case impacts other cases in Colorado. I'm under the understanding that several insurance parties are actually looking at their policies now. Because I argued my case around Colorado statute, from my understanding, it will be limited to Colorado. My hope is to be able to set a precedent here that insurance companies will take across the country. I'm not sure exactly how that will play out, because it seems like policy change within insurance companies is going to be a long, long process, even if the intention is good.
Read on for more from Kelly Shortandqueer.