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Time to mainstream transgender health services

Caitlyn Jenner officially introduced herself to the world

Caitlyn Jenner officially introduced herself to the world June 1 via a Vanity Fair cover story. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Frazer Harrison

Advances in the transgender movement over the past year have been unparalleled, and not just thanks to actress Laverne Cox and now Caitlyn Jenner. President Barack Obama, local and state governments, the Girl Scouts, children's book publishers and TV shows have opened their arms to transgender individuals.

Still, there is much progress to be made on transgender civil rights. Many of the 700,000 transgender people nationwide continue to face discrimination -- most often at doctors' offices. That was the case for Heidley Aliaga, a writer and language teacher living in Manhattan. When she sought a sex change, one doctor told her that she probably had a brain tumor that was distorting her thinking. Other doctors were uncomfortable prescribing her hormones.

According to a National Center on Transgender Equality report:

1 in 5 transgender people were denied care by medical providers;

50% of those sampled reported having to educate medical providers about transgender care;

About one-third reported harassment in medical settings.

Because of poor treatment, transgender people often postpone seeking needed care, or adopt high-risk behaviors such as self-administering silicone injections or buying street hormones. If transgender individuals wanted decent health services, their option in the past was a specialized LGBT health center. But, if we are helping bring transgender folks into the mainstream, shouldn't we mainstream their health care?

Yes. At Community Healthcare Network, a nonprofit that runs health centers throughout NYC, we have done it. We created the Transgender Family Program and now provide health services for 350 transgender individuals.

But we, and the handful of medical practices like ours, can't meet the needs of the entire transgender community. State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has proposed providing information and training to hospitals to address the health needs of transgender people, but it is vital that medical providers be trained to implement the practices.

Without changes, transgender individuals will continue to unnecessarily put their lives at risk. We have come far in recognizing the rights and needs of transgender people. Let's continue to gain ground.

Robert M. Hayes is president and chief executive of Community Healthcare Network.


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