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Healthcare: not just for everybody any more?

So far as I know, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. never studied Traditional Chinese Medicine. Nevertheless, he deftly articulated and applied its foundation in the body: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” His statement also masterfully describes one of many reasons that providers at Rainbow Health Center (RHC) actively work to reverse healthcare discrimination against transgender people. In recognition of the upcoming Transgender Awareness Week, let me share the importance of this work with you.

According to a New York Times editorialone in five transgender people reported having been denied care by a health care provider as a result of their gender.” (emphasis added) And we are not just talking about transgender specific procedures such as sex reassignment surgery; this includes general health care, and denial of treatment at the E.R.

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Like all humans, transgender people need care for things like upper respiratory infections and sutures for cuts from bagel (and finger) slicing, which they aren’t necessarily getting. They may also need medical support to safely transition their physiology to align with their identity. For those that choose surgery, this isn’t a “luxury” or “elective cosmetic surgery” like some might call an eye lift; this is a medical necessity with clear cut positive outcomes in health and quality of life.

Unlike most Americans, 41% of those who responded to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey reported attempting suicide as contrasted with less than 2% of all Americans who report suicide attempts. And it isn’t just adults; 51% of the trans kids who responded reported suicide attempts and are two or three times more at risk for mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression, due in no small part to the bullying, harassment, assault or expulsions they experience in school. Notably, a recent study found that providing trans kids with puberty blocking hormones so they did not express a sex that misaligned with their gender had a significant mental health benefit and reduction in lifetime suicide attempts. Affirming healthcare saves lives.

The American Pediatric Association recognized this in a 2013 publication which recommended training of office staff, creation of forms that do not presume sexual orientation or binary gender; the ability to refer families for “specialized care” for sexual minority teens; and providing support, affirmation, resources, education and referrals for transitioning teens, among others. RHC is just such a resource for practitioners not only trans patients.

And why would medical professionals need such a resource after all that time in medical school? “Currently, American medical schools’ curriculums are not sufficiently addressing the health needs and concerns of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. A comprehensive survey of schools in the United States and Canada revealed that less than five hours in medical schools are devoted to L.G.B.T. health over all; some medical schools reported zero hours of training.”

Until curriculums catch up with life, you can make a difference in ensuring access to care for ALL members of our community and in helping providers gain the knowledge they need to give good care: Support Rainbow Health Center.

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