This November, and every day of the year, Planned Parenthood stands with the transgender community. We see you. We care about you. We stand in solidarity with you — no matter what.
As health care providers, educators, and advocates, Planned Parenthood is committed to serving all people with care and respect. We are proud to provide sexual and reproductive health care and education to transgender people in communities across the country — including cancer screenings, STI testing and treatment, birth control, primary care, and hormone therapy, as well as sex education that includes transgender people’s identities and experiences.
We’re proud to be a source of compassionate, inclusive, and affirming health care — but what exactly does that mean?
For more, we look to Dr. Bhavik Kumar, PPGC’s Medical Director for Primary and Trans Care.
How does Planned Parenthood fit in the LGBTQ-affirming health care space?
DR. KUMAR: Planned Parenthood serves more than 2.4 million patients each year, and we strive to provide health care that’s inclusive and respectful of all genders and identities. That includes vital health care services — like cancer screenings, STI testing and treatment, contraception, abortion, primary care, and more — for all people, regardless of sexual orientation, gender expression, or gender identity, and also LGBTQ-specific clinical services.
Currently, over 200 Planned Parenthood health centers in 33 states — including Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast — offer gender-affirming hormone therapy for transgender patients, and many are currently offering this service via telehealth to help ease the barriers of accessing this care during COVID-19. For many LGBTQ+ people, especially those who are BIPOC, Planned Parenthood is their only source of affordable, expert care — and Planned Parenthood is an essential and irreplaceable provider of hormone therapy and sexual and reproductive health care for transgender patients, especially in areas outside of major cities where we’re often the only provider doing this work.
What does LGBTQ-affirming care actually look like?
DR. KUMAR: Beyond providing health care, including LGBTQ-specific clinical services, LGBTQ-affirming care also means robust education and training for all staff, inclusive policies and procedures focused on reducing health disparities among LGBTQ+ patients, encouraging patient self-identification, and promoting and providing comprehensive and diverse sexual health education that includes the lived experiences of LGBTQ+ folks.
This means we not only provide excellent health care, but we are cognizant of training all the people involved in a patient’s health care experience to understand and value LGBTQ+ people. Planned Parenthood provides LGBTQ+ health-training programs to all of our health centers across the U.S.
What does that look like in a health center?
DR. KUMAR: We strive to make our health centers safe and supporting environments for all — spaces that affirm a patient’s gender identity, understand and communicate the kind of care they need, use inclusive language that acknowledges the full spectrum of gender identities and expressions, and are mindful of the indirect messages that can be so important to building trust and making our patients feel comfortable. Our goal is to make every person who comes to us — whether by phone, video, or in-person — feel welcome, safe, and cared for while providing the best possible care.
We also understand that people need support navigating the healthcare system outside of our health centers. That’s why we have a patient navigator to help patients with things like referrals to specialty providers, including surgical referrals; forms required for name changes on documents; pharmacies; and insurance companies. We understand the complexities of accessing health care, especially for LGBTQ+ folks, and we strive to ease those burdens both in and outside of our health centers.
How do non-affirming/inclusive spaces deprive LGBTQ+ folks of good health care?
DR. KUMAR: We know that LGBTQ+ people — particularly LGBTQ+ people of color — face greater barriers to health care than non-LGBTQ+ people. They are more likely to face systematic harassment and discrimination, including from medical providers, and are more likely to be uninsured, unable to afford care, and to suffer from chronic health conditions, including HIV/AIDS and cancer, as a result.
In addition to overcoming stigma and systemic barriers to access, LGBTQ+ people must also often confront unwelcoming and/or ill-equipped healthcare environments. Everything from forms to fill out and the language used in waiting rooms to lack of understanding among staff — doctors assuming gender identities, or telling queer women they don’t need cervical cancer screenings, for example — contributes to LGBTQ+ folks’ increased fear and anxiety around seeking care, disproportionately worse health outcomes, and sometimes even traumatic experiences. One in three transgender people have already faced discrimination with a health care provider, including verbal harassment and being refused treatment, a rate even higher among BIPOC. All of this can and does deter LGBTQ+ people from seeking and receiving the timely and proper care they deserve.
How can we do better?
DR. KUMAR: It all begins with education, which, from a training perspective, can be sorely lacking for some health care providers when it comes to developing the tools they need to adequately support LGBTQ+ patients, especially trans and non-binary folks, and to provide the care and treatment that all patients deserve. A 2018 study by researchers from the NYU School of Medicine showed that most medical school training residencies leave transgender health care out of their curricula — an oversight that can have traumatic consequences for those patients seeking comprehensive and compassionate care.
The onus is on medical providers and educators to do better by acknowledging the shortcomings in most medical training, committing to continuous learning and unlearning, and advocating against the discrimination LGBTQ+ patients encounter when seeking care. It also requires that we center LGBTQ+ people in these efforts. We consistently seek feedback from our patients so we can learn and find opportunities to improve the way we provide care and how folks access that care.
Read more about PPGC’s trans care services here, and call 1-800-230-PLAN to schedule an appointment.