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Intersex Activist Emily Quinn: Making Healthcare Workers Think Outside the Box

Updated: Mar 22, 2021

by Matt Collins, M.D., M.B.A., executive vice president and chief medical officer at Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island

Dr. Matt Collins

The last time you visited a medical practice, did you fill out paperwork when you arrived at your appointment? Was one of the first things you encountered an option to check a box for either male or female? What may seem simple to many is actually an incredibly difficult situation for millions of people – including the 1.7 percent of the population born with intersex traits, comparable to the number of people born with red hair.

As part of Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island’s (BCBSRI) dedication to exploring the complexities of diversity and inclusion, I was recently honored to take part in a company-wide discussion with intersex activist Emily Quinn around how humans can't always fit so neatly into the “boxes” that we create for ourselves. Her own personal story lent a voice to the massively misrepresented population of those born with intersex traits, including a multitude of healthcare struggles.

As a medical professional, it’s common practice to encourage preventive health screenings like mammograms or prostate screenings based on assigned gender, but I also recognize that gender coding can be prohibitive for the LGBTQIA+ community when fulfilling healthcare needs. Emily provided a unique insight into the limitations intersex individuals often experience when seeking healthcare and, not surprisingly, her sentiment was enthusiastically negative. From a doctor’s perspective, this is often the result of ignorance and lack of education in providers, but with the abundance of expert resources at our disposal, it can’t be an excuse anymore.

Emily Quinn

There is inherent value in inviting someone like Emily Quinn to help our organization see through the lens of someone who doesn’t feel seen by the healthcare system, and reminds us that it is our duty as healthcare workers to address the needs and struggles of all patient populations – to constantly look for those who can be better served. We can be at our best only when everyone has an equal opportunity for success, and exploring LGBTQIA+ health needs from all angles through open conversation and firsthand experiences is only the first step in understanding how we can help.

I am grateful to individuals like Emily who keep the conversation going to create a more inclusive world, who ask us to consider whether any of us necessarily fit wholly into traditional categories.

I’m proud to stand with BCBSRI in taking steps in the right direction, notably including adding gender reassignment care and coverage to our policies; broadening our fully insured coverage to include things that may have previously been excluded for those transitioning; and implementing healthcare practices that provide safe, affirming, and inclusive care to the LGBTQIA+ community through our Safe Zone program.

It’s clear there is always more work to be done, and we’re always looking for ways to better understand and support the complex health care needs of each and every Rhode Islander. Emily Quinn has reminded us of the value of taking a step back and listening. It can only serve to make us better health care professionals. If you’d like to learn more about Emily Quinn or intersex topics, I’d recommend her website

Matt Collins, M.D., M.B.A., is executive vice president and chief medical officer at Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island




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