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UofM Panel Discusses Gender-Affirming Health Care Accessibility

The Counseling, Educational Psychologyand Research Diversity Committee, in partnership with the Counseling Psychology Forum Committee, hosted a panel on Saturday, March 23, discussing the status of gender-affirming healthcare. A diverse panel consisting of experts from community groups, healthcare, and mental health fields shared insights on access at both the state and national level.

The panelists were Dr. Kade Hiestand, a licensed psychologist at Hiestand Psychological Services; Chuck Kolesar, the clinical director of CHOICES: Memphis Center for Reproductive Health; Tamesha Prewitte from OUTMemphis; and Megan Paige, a professional trauma-informed therapist.

Hiestand Psychological Services focuses on assisting transgender parents and families, while CHOICES is a Memphis-based non-profit reproductive health care clinic that provides a variety of medical services, including LGBTQ+ health services and birth control. OUTMemphis promotes mental, physical, as well as sexual and spiritual health, in addition to being an LGBTQ+ advocacy organization.

During the event, the panelists were asked a series of questions about the state of LGBTQ+ individuals, particularly the transgender community.

One of the panelists discussed the repercussions of not having gender-affirming health care for legally consenting persons. Dr. Kolesar said, “In Tennessee and many other states, they have to travel for gender affirming care, having to worry about insurance and out of pocket pay.”

The panel discerned a link between gender-related treatment and mental health in LGBTQ+ individuals. “Gender dysphoria causesa rise in depression and anxiety,” said Dr. Kolesar. “Transgender adults without gender-affirming care have higher suicide rates than their peers. I see it in my job.”

In a 2022 Pew Research Center study, a group of transgender and non-binary participants shared their stories to provide glimpses into their experiences. The study stated, “Many focus group participants who have sought medical treatment for their gender transition faced barriers, although some had positive experiences. For those who said there were barriers, the cost and the struggle to find sympathetic doctors were often cited as challenges.”

While access to gender-affirming care has been expanded in recent years, many people still rely on underground networks to obtain this form of health care. “Youth who are stuck here in Tennessee are sharing hormones and doing it unsafely. That is why we are here,” Megan Paige said.

They addressed other questions such as, “How can mental health professionals and educators support our clients and students who are navigating issues around gender identity?”

“I am a cis-gendered white male, and we need to under- stand our privilege. I used to not understand, but I have had resources and things shared with me that the person next to me never has. So, you need to understand and that helps you to be a good provider,” Dr. Kolesar said. “Let us think about science and reality. There are some good studies showing how gender-affirming care is beneficial. We must keep our heads down and up. We want to advocate, but we do not want to get shut down, so you are the ones who must shut down the misinformation.”

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