Howard Brown Health Center (HBHC) hosted a panel, "Opportunities for Holistic Trans Health: Inside and Outside the System," May 6 that addressed the healthcare needs of the trans community.
In keeping with the topic of holistic healthcare, the panel's speakers came from a range of fields and areas of expertise. The panel included Chaz Bono, who would also be the featured guest speaker at HBHC's Lifeline Fundraiser later that evening. (A documentary about his transition, Becoming Chaz, was to have its television premiere on the Oprah Winfrey Network May 10, with his memoir being published the same day.)
The other panelists were activists and healthcare professionals and advocates from the Chicago community. They included Lois Bates, trans health manager at HBHC; Linda Wesp, director of adolescent health at HBHC; Owen Daniel-McCarter, founding collective member of the Transformative Justice Law Project (TJLP); Lawrence Goring, founding member of Gender Identity Foundation for Transgender Men (GIFT); Matty Rosado, lead facilitator at Broadway Youth Center (BYC); and C. Angel Torres, movement-building leader at the Young Women's Empowerment Project (YWEP) and Shira Hassan, co-director of YWEP.
HBHC CEO Jamal Edwards addressed the packed room, numbering approximately 40 individuals, with introductory remarks emphasizing the importance of the Center to the community. He said, "What we do at Howard Brown is unique because people [come to Howard Brown] when they need quality, culturally competent and compassionate healthcare." Calling HBHC "a place of refuge and a place of strength," he praised it for its "innovative" THInC (Trans Hormone Informed Consent) protocol, which allows clients seeking hormone therapy to access it by stating their own choices about their transitions. This differs from the standard procedure at most clinics, where transgender clients are required to demonstrate that they are suitable candidates for therapy.
BYC manager Lara Brooks moderated the panel. Her opening remarks set the tone for the discussion when she spoke of the need to "link healthcare to institutional violence" and praised what she described as a "dream team" of a panel as "activists bravely resisting institutional violence." Brooks began by asking what the problems might be with access to healthcare for the trans community, and asked Bono to respond first. He said "trans guys who don't know how to access proper treatment" and recommended that people "start with your local gay and lesbian center and do research."
Rosado spoke of the problems with not having more "open-minded medical providers" and the fact that hormone therapies tend to be expensive, as well as issues with people assuming they knew what pronouns to use and the lack of gender neutral bathrooms. Grimes expanded the point by adding that medical professionals were not sufficiently trained in working with the transgender community, and emphasized that the issues needed to be taken to the mainstream and larger institutions.
On a question of internalized transphobia, Bono spoke of his own experience, recounting that "For me, the internalized transphobia was fear and shame" and that he had once thought that his life would be "absolutely ruined" if he transitioned.
A discussion about what good trans health would look like prompted responses from Wesp, who stressed the need for medical providers to, effectively, unlearn much of what they might have been taught in medical school. According to her, medical providers are "trained to make quick judgments" and diagnoses "and to put people in boxes," and that can mean often ignoring the needs, wishes, and gender self-identification of their trans clients. Bates spoke of the need for providers to remember that health issues did not operate in isolation and that other matters, like sexual issues or partner issues, were also key to a holistic health program.
Daniel-McCarter returned to the issue of institutional violence raised at the beginning when asked about one of TJLP's core values (each group was asked to discuss its own), gender self-determination. He pointed out that trans people are "scrutinized more for their gender expression" and further stigmatized when they are also poor, people of color and/or HIV-positive. This also means that they have limited access to healthcare and other basic needs while at the same time facing harassment, violence, police violence and high rates of incarceration. He also pointed to the mainstream community's tendency to see incarcerated trans people as a "taint on the movement."
YWEP's Hassan and Torres spoke about reproductive justice, a core value for the group, defining it as "the right to make decisions about your body and you at all times," and their emphasis on harm reduction, which means aiding their constituents in safer practices in whatever they were engaged in (such as sex trade or the use of street hormones), instead of lecturing them to stop.
Bates and Wesp also addressed the history of HBHC's relationship with the Chicago transgender community. Wesp expanded on the development of the THInC protocol while Bates spoke of how Howard Brown was "one of the first institutions that started thinking about providing healthcare to trans individuals, especially trans people of color," who have high rates of HIV.
Addressing the question of what the community and allies might do to take further steps with regard to healthcare for the trans community, Owen Daniel-McCarter said that one in three trans people can expect to be incarcerated and that allies and the community should think of alternatives to hate crimes legislation which, he said, does not work because "it individualizes problems with hate" and only succeeds in putting more people of color without resources in jail; according to him, most people jailed under hate-crimes legislation are Black males, for crimes against white men.
Asked what the panelists might dream about in terms of healthcare for the community, Wesp said, simply, "healthcare for everybody," and Torres spoke of the need for transformative justice rather than "subscribing to a system that's broken." Grimes said he wanted to see gender identity disorder removed from the DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), pointing out that "it creates a lot of barriers for our community by creating a negative stigma."
He added, "We don't have a mental disorder. What we have is a problem dealing with the systems because the systems don't have a way to deal with us. We navigate and we deal with that stress day to day." Photos by Kat Fitzgerald (MysticImagesPhotography.com ); many more at www.WindyCityMediaGroup.com