Thursday night at the Ford School of Public Policy, four panelists discussed various obstacles the transgender community face, especially concerning health care, at the Trans Health Access Panel.
Approximately 0.3 percent of the U.S. population is estimated to be transgender — about 700,000 adults — according to a study from the University of California, Los Angeles. Transgender is an umbrella term for individuals whose gender identity and/or gender expression differs from the sex they were assigned at birth.
Laura Jadwin-Cakmak, the panel’s moderator and Health Behavior and Health Education research director, said transgender community members face unique health care issues for several reasons, including discrimination when their gender identity does not fit in the binary male-female system.
Panelist Leslie Nicholas, a naturopathic medicine practitioner, noted how deeply ingrained the binary system is in people’s minds, saying it does not include those who do not identify themselves as simply male or female.
“When someone has a baby, we first ask them if it’s a boy or a girl,” Nicholas said. “Why not ask for the baby’s name? Why not ask how the baby is doing?”
Several panelists emphasized that several countries — including Germany, New Zealand and Australia — recognize that there are more than just two genders.
Jadwin-Cakmak highlighted how health care problems affect the quality of life for trans individuals, citing that 41 percent of trans individuals have reported to have attempted suicide, much higher than 4.6 percent of the overall population.
Panelist Kathryn Fessler, a pediatrician and sociologist, said during 20 years of working with more than 100 young transgender individuals, she has worked with only one person who did not suffer from depression or anxiety. However, she added that this does not mean mental health disorders and transgender people are linked.
“There’s this idea that all trans people need mental health care,” Fessler said. “That’s not true. The reason why trans people need mental health care is because they are living in horrible conditions.”
The panelists also discussed how difficult it is for transgender individuals to find transgender-inclusive and transgender-affirmative medical providers and how uncomfortable the experience can be at the doctor’s office.
“We get asked questions about our bodies all the time in health care settings, even when it’s unrelated to the reason why we are there,” Elliot Popoff, a project manager at the SexLab, said.
Along with discussing the issues, panelists also touched on potential solutions. Panelist Bré Anne Campbell, a community specialist at the University’s Center for Sexuality & Health Disparities, emphasized the importance of hiring more transgender individuals. A 2011 national survey showed that 26 percent of transgender individuals lost a job due to discrimination and 50 percent were harassed on the job.
Nicholas said the non-transgender community must be welcoming and treat transgender individuals as human beings. She added that mistakes are OK as long as people have the best intentions and try to understand.
“It’s not rocket science to treat each other as human beings,” Nicholas said. “Best intentions are well received by people who know you are trying. We’ve got to be welcoming.”
Public Health student Jack Andrzejewski, who attended the event, said the topics discussed during the event aligned with his research interests at the SexLab, which include sexuality and gender identity.
“(The event) spoke to our personal interests in terms of our research and the work that we have been doing,” Andrzejewski said.