NEWS

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June 3, 2008

Trans students unhappy with perceived SCC faults

This final installment of our series on transgender campus trends explores campus health care options for the transgender community.

For many transgender students, the quest for campus health care that fits their particular needs and concerns is a daunting one. In recent years, members of the LGBTQ community frequently cited health care reform at the Student Care Center (SCC) as one of the key campus issues for the University's queer community.

In 2005, a group of students and staff representing the University's LGBTQ community released a set of recommendations for the future of LGBTQ support at the University.

In particular, the recommendations stressed the need for better HIV/AIDS screening procedures at the SCC. At the time, the SCC offered confidential HIV screening, which limited access to testing results to the patient and the doctor. However, the SCC did not offer anonymous testing, which does not associate the patient's name with the results.

"Our colleagues in the SCC worked very closely with various students and administrators to develop a mechanism to be able to do that," said Bill Michel, assistant vice president for student life and associate dean of the College.

But some transgender students on campus believe that the SCC still struggles to cater to some transgender needs.

Luka Carfagna, a graduate student in a one-year master's program, is a female-to-male transgender student who identifies as genderqueer. Carfagna said that the SCC has garnered an unwelcoming reputation among the University's trans community, adding that the wording in the SCC's Womancare service is alienating for many trans students who are transitioning from female to male.

A first-year trans student, who requested anonymity, echoed Carfagna's concerns, and said that she was dissuaded from using the SCC services after hearing about the experiences of other trans students.

"Health care for trans people is practically atrocious," she said, citing a lack of knowledge about and sensitivity to trans bodies and trans health needs.

Concerns voiced by the trans community about the state of health care available to trans students at the SCC prompted several students from the LGBTQ community to meet with SCC representatives last month to discuss ways to make SCC services more welcoming to trans students.

The discussions resulted in a set of initiatives tentatively slated for implementation early next year, said Cherie Dupuis, a family nurse practitioner who attended the discussions along with SCC director Kristine Bordenave.

Dupuis said that the SCC would like to designate a staff member as a point person familiar with trans health care who would be able to connect students with health care clinics and resources throughout Chicago.

"There are so many different areas in health care that we can't know about all of them. We are hoping to get at least one person who would be knowledgeable about these issues," Dupuis said.

In the past, trans students at the U of C have sought out health care options not offered through the SCC at Howard Brown, an independent health clinic north of Lincoln Park that serves the LGBTQ community in the Chicago metropolitan area. Howard Brown offers testing, vaccination, support groups, and primary medical services to members of the LGBTQ community for free or at a reduced rate.

"There are a number of [health care services] available in a city like Chicago, but you sort of have to dig around and search. Howard Brown is a tremendous resource for transgender students," said John McPherrin, a psychologist at the University's Student Counseling and Resource Service.

In addition to systematizing the Chicago area health care resources already available to trans students citywide, Dupuis also said that the SCC is planning on changing the name of its Womancare services both in clinic settings and on its website, since many trans students find the wording alienating.

"It's supposed to be a time to talk. We're trying to make it clear that it's a service for everyone," she said. "We're hoping to make it more inclusive."

Additionally, the SCC and members of the LGBTQ community have plans underway to add trans educational components to the SCC's upcoming retreat in August.

Several trans students have also expressed frustration about their inability to get prescriptions for hormone therapy at the SCC. According to Dupuis, SCC personnel hesitate to write or fill the prescriptions because they don't have expertise in the field of sex hormones.

"The truth is that we don't know long- term consequences of [hormones], so we hesitate," she said. "I don't think anyone right now is comfortable with that. It should be done through an endocrinologist."

Nevertheless, campus clinics nationwide prescribe and dispense hormones to trans students, and some insistent trans students at the U of C were eventually able to get hormone prescriptions from the SCC filled after several attempts.

Carfagna, who did his undergraduate work at the University of Vermont, said that the University's trans health care lags behind that of his alma mater.

"At my past institution, they just got hormone therapy covered under student health care. And they are, as are other schools, working on covering gender reassignment surgeries. And the only complications they are running into are with the health insurance companies. It's not with the administration on campus," he said.

Nevertheless, while many trans students find fault with the current state of trans health care at the SCC, they attribute these oversights to lack of education and not to unwillingness to work with trans students.

"There's a really self-conscious lack of information at the Student Care Center about trans people. They've very up-front about their lack of knowledge," said Red Tremmel, a graduate student in the history department.

"We're going to stay in contact. We thought we were doing a lot of good things, so we were surprised to hear that some students felt uncomfortable [with SCC health care]," Dupuis said.