F or many LGBT Houstonians, and especially those who are transgender, Dr. Julia Kovacs is a shining light in the medical world, which can all too often be an inhospitable place for transgender patients. Dr. Kovacs’ practice recently announced the addition of Todd O’Neal to her team, and he will be focusing specifically on the transgender community’s healthcare needs.
O’Neal was born and raised in Beaumont, but has been living in Houston for the past seven years, now in the East End. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Texas A&M University, a nursing
degree from the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, and a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree from the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston.
O’Neal has worked as a registered nurse at Texas Children’s Hospital in the cardiovascular ICU, and later at Children’s Memorial Hermann as a float nurse, primarily in the pediatric ICU. He has also served as a clinical instructor for nursing students through UTMB. For the past three and a half years, he has been working at Legacy Community Health in adult medicine, providing primary care with a clinical focus on the LGBTQ community.
OutSmart recently asked O’Neal about his medical background and why he’s looking forward to working with the transgender community as part of Dr. Kovacs’ clinical team.
Jenny Block: How did you become interested in working with the LGBT community in general, and the trans community in particular?
Todd O’Neal: As an out gay man, I have firsthand experience with some of the bias we face in securing competent care, and I wanted to actively work to change that bias in Houston. With a little push (and plenty of support) from a longtime friend who identifies as a trans man, I sought out learning opportunities in my previous practice from colleagues and patients about gender-affirming healthcare practices. Since then, I have worked to combine my training with ever-expanding research and guidelines. LGBTQ+ issues are generally not covered in medical training, or if they’re included, topics are limited to brief lectures or electives. Children and young adults [usually receive] sexual education that is distinctly cis-hetero, focusing on preventing pregnancy [and barely mentioning] other sexual-health concerns and gender issues.
What do you find most rewarding about your work?
When I see the positive changes in a person who is comfortable, confident, and proud of living their truth. I feel privileged to provide education and healthcare services to a community with known disparities in access to care. Recent social and political issues have lit the proverbial fire underneath me to continue providing care, and helping to educate other healthcare providers.
What made you decide to join Dr. Kovacs’ practice?
I originally met Dr. Kovacs at a World Professional Association for Transgender Health conference early in my career, and we reconnected when I became involved in planning the continuing education for the Gender Infinity Conference, for which she is often a presenter. I have a profound respect for the care she provides—a respect that seems to be shared in the transgender community by word of mouth. [We recently] met for coffee, which resulted in a discussion about the growing need for competent, gender-affirming care in Houston and how we might address that need by working together. From a community standpoint, I believe our collaboration will increase availability for gender-diverse individuals to receive the care they need and deserve. From a personal standpoint, I believe a practice with two dedicated providers increases [the quality of decision-making and treatment]. I am excited to combine our experience and passion to create a well-rounded healthcare service for the LGBTQ+ community.
What services will you be offering there?
I plan to continue providing adult primary-care services including wellness visits, vaccines, sick visits, and chronic-disease management, but I will also focus on LGBTQ+ health. I am passionate about sexual and gender health, including STI screenings, HIV prevention and treatment, and gender-affirming hormone therapy.
What are your favorite things to do in Houston?
I enjoy trying all of the new and diverse restaurants around Houston. I also try to attend concerts and musical theater—Wicked is my favorite, but I recently saw Phantom of the Opera, which was fantastic. I will be seeing Fleetwood Mac in February, as I am a big fan of Stevie Nicks.
What might people be surprised to find out about you?
I enjoy cooking—but not baking, because I like to cook to taste. When I get a chance to read for pleasure, I prefer epic fantasy novels.
If you had the chance to speak to those filled with hate for the trans community, what would you like to say to them?
People often misunderstand ignorance. It is generally [the result of] a lack of knowledge. We are all ignorant, but the way we accept and acknowledge that ignorance is far more important than its existence. I try to challenge others to identify their areas of ignorance, biases, and privilege, and use that information to actively seek knowledge and relationships that will promote understanding and growth. Through educating yourself and sharing experiences with gender-diverse individuals, you can gain an appreciation for the struggles of people who are much more like you than you previously imagined. In the words of the late transgender activist Marsha P. Johnson, “How many years does it take for people to see that we’re all brothers and sisters and human beings in the human race? I mean, how many years does it take for people to see that we’re all in this rat-race together?”
This article appears in the February 2019 edition of OutSmart magazine.