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A Historic Appointment

Dr. Cody Pyke is the first transgender and nonbinary Harris Health System trustee.

On May 16, Harris County Commissioners Court made history when it unanimously approved Dr. Cody Pyke as the first openly transgender and nonbinary member of Harris Health System’s nine-member board of trustees. 

An appointee of newly elected Precinct 4 Commissioner Lesley Briones, Dr. Pyke (who uses both she and they pronouns) is a medical doctor, attorney, bioethicist, and adjunct professor at the University of Houston College of Medicine. They have a medical doctorate from Baylor College of Medicine, a juris doctorate and Master of Laws in Health Law from the University of Houston Law Center, a Master of Science degree in bioethics from Clarkson University, and a Bachelor of Music degree from Trinity University. Dr. Pyke has served on the National Perinatal Association Board of Directors and has worked on public policy for the Texas Senate and in nonprofits such as the Children’s Assessment Center and the Tahirih Justice Center. The Harris Health System appointment is for a two-year unpaid term.

“I am incredibly proud to appoint Dr. Pyke to the Harris Health board,” said Commissioner Briones. “Not only are they exceptionally qualified for this role, but their perspective as an advocate for health equity and intersectional justice in health care is much needed. Her lived experience as a nonbinary transgender woman will bring a needed perspective to the board as we strive to create a more equitable and inclusive healthcare system in Harris County. While the Texas Legislature advances harmful legislation targeting the transgender community, we must remain committed to science-based medical practices that prioritize reliable health care for every person in our community. Harris County must be data-driven and strive to be a model of inclusivity, equality, and fairness.”

Commissioner Briones later told OutSmart, “Dr. Pyke is so well qualified, it’s a win-win for Harris Health—especially given the very dangerous legislation going on in Austin this session. There is a stark contrast between Harris County and the State of Texas. Harris County will champion inclusion. It gives me pride that the decision was unanimous. I thought it might be a four-to-one split [since the Court has four Democratic commissioners and one Republican]. I was surprised it was unanimous, but very proud.”

Dr. Pyke is also a powerful advocate for trans people in Texas. In March of this year, Dr. Pyke testified at a State Senate committee hearing on bills targeting LGBTQ Texans, including Senate Bill 14. It was the same hearing in which Houston doctor and GOP activist Steven Hotze called trans people and their providers “pedophiles.” Senator José Menéndez admonished him for the remark, and when Hotze replied “That’s bullshit,” he was removed from the hearing.

Dr. Pyke remarked at the time that Republican committee chair Bryan Hughes “seemed to take no issue with transphobia, only profanity.”

“Since transitioning myself, I have been subject to physical and verbal assaults by complete strangers on the streets,” they said. “It’s not a fad; it’s not a social contagion. It is a real identity, and we deserve your protection, not your hatred.”

Harris Health oversees a fully integrated $2.3 billion healthcare system that includes community health centers, same-day clinics, multi-specialty clinic locations, a dental center, a dialysis center, mobile health units, and two full-service hospitals in Harris County. It is the county’s key safety-net provider for 300,000 indigent and low-income patients. Last year, Harris Health took over healthcare services for the county jail.

“My most important priority for Harris Health is making sure health care is accessible for all, regardless of citizenship status or health insurance,” Dr. Pyke said. “I have done extensive research on incarcerated health care and have given talks on pregnancy care in jail. Having an LGBTQ person at the table for the first time will add a voice for the community.”

Concerning the multiple anti-LGBTQ bills that were passed by the Texas Legislature, Dr. Pyke was very adamant. “That’s the million-dollar question right now, isn’t it?” I will push the board to do what we can for LGB and trans people in Harris County. Those bills will be tied up in legal battles—as they are now in other states where similar bills have been passed. The mission of Harris Health is to improve the health of those most in need in Harris County—[including] trans people—through quality care delivery, coordination of care, and education.”

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Marene Gustin

Marene Gustin has written about Texas culture, food, fashion, the arts, and Lone Star politics and crime for television, magazines, the web and newspapers nationwide, and worked in Houston politics for six years. Her freelance work has appeared in the Austin Chronicle, Austin-American Statesman, Houston Chronicle, Houston Press, Texas Monthly, Dance International, Dance Magazine, the Advocate, Prime Living, InTown magazine, OutSmart magazine and web sites CultureMap Houston and Austin, Eater Houston and, among others.
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