For nearly three years, Roscoe Rike has been picking up his hormone-replacement therapy prescriptions at the same Walgreens in Oakland without a hitch.
That changed on Monday when the 30-year transgender man said he was denied his medication because of the pharmacist’s religious beliefs.
“It was just really surreal,” said Rike, who recorded part of the exchange at the pharmacy. “I know that transphobia and transphobic people exist, but that was my first experience of a perfect stranger doing something like that to my face.”
The exchange occurred Monday morning at the Walgreens in the 5000 block of Telegraph Avenue.
In a statement, a Walgreens spokesperson said the company was unable to discuss specific patients but said policies were in place to assure all patients are helped even in the “very rare” situation when employees have a religious belief that prevents them from helping the customer.
“In an instance where a team member has a religious or moral conviction that prevents them from meeting a patient’s need, we require the team member to refer the patient to another employee or manager on duty who can complete the transaction,” the statement read. “These instances, however, are very rare.”
The spokesperson confirmed that the company was reviewing the Oakland incident.
On Monday, Rike said he’d spoken to a Walgreens employee earlier that day to make sure his medication was ready for pickup but sensed something was awry when the pharmacist behind the counter unexpectedly asked him why he was taking the medication.
“I was like, ‘I don’t think that’s any of your business, really,’” Rike said. “I was initially confused for a second, but right away I could sense that, OK, we’re doing this.”
The pharmacist then told Rike he would have to call his doctor to find out what the medication was for. When Rike pushed back, the pharmacist told him that he wouldn’t give him the prescription because of his religious beliefs.
That’s when Rike said he decided to record the encounter on his phone.
“So right now, you’re going to tell me you’re going to deny me my medication because of your personal religion?” Rike is heard saying in the video. “You’re not my [expletive] doctor.”
The pharmacists is seen looking at a computer screen and clicking on a mouse silently for a few seconds.
“So you think you know better than my doctor? Is that what’s going on?” Rike asked.
“I just need to know your diagnosis,” the pharmacist responded.
“Why? That’s none of your [expletive] business!” Rike said. “It’s always the religious people that have the most [expletive] hate in their hearts. You’re disgusting.”
During the incident, Rike said the pharmacist told him he could return to the store after noon, but that seemed unfair to him.
“Why should I have to wait two hours for something that’s ready?” he said. “Only thing that is keeping me from getting my medicine, that my doctor prescribed me, is this dude not doing his job.”
When Rike asked to speak with the manager, he said, the pharmacist ignored him.
Another employee contacted a manager, who apologized for the incident and gave Rike his medication.
Rike said he’s aware that pharmacists are allowed to refer patients to someone else if they have a religious objection but that doesn’t make sense.
“If you follow a religion that is going to prevent you from doing your job and provide medical care to people, then you need to not be in the medical profession dealing with the public,” he said.
Since Monday, Rike has considered changing pharmacies, or signing up for a home delivery service. He said he doesn’t want to deal with a similar situation again.
He hesitates to make any changes just yet, though.
“There’s a part of me that’s like, why do I have to change how I do things? I didn’t do anything wrong,” he said. “I should just be able to go to my local pharmacy and get my medication like everyone else.”