Many transgender people struggle to access affirming and affordable healthcare in Texas, but Planned Parenthood is working to change that.
At least 22 percent of trans Texans didn’t see a doctor when they needed to in 2015 due to fear of being mistreated, and at least 38 percent could not afford it, according to the latest Texas State Report from the National Center for Transgender Equality.
In order to address these issues and others, Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast (PPGC)—a nonprofit that has provided reproductive healthcare to Greater Houston and Louisiana for the last 80 years—has expanded its services for trans and gender nonconforming patients in three of its locations, says PPGC Medical Director Bhavik Kumar.
Over the summer, PPGC launched gender-affirming hormone therapy at the Northville Health Center of Houston and the New Orleans Health Center of Louisiana. In October, the nonprofit added this service to its Prevention Park location in central Houston.
“At Planned Parenthood, we believe everybody deserves healthcare—whether you’re cis or you’re trans,” Kumar says. “We’re also experts at recognizing when folks are marginalized, and helping to reduce those barriers. Offering trans care at our centers is in line with that.”
Some trans Texans have to drive three to five hours just to locate competent and affirming healthcare, according to Transgender Education Network of Texas (TENT) Executive Director Emmett Schelling. And even in metropolitan areas like Houston, trans folks face obstacles accessing healthcare due to societal issues, such as income and employment status, homelessness, and transportation.
“It’s great that Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast expanded its gender affirming hormone therapy,” Schelling says, “especially because so many trans issues are linked to reproductive justice, and what it means to have bodily autonomy and control over your own medical decisions.”
“This is a game-changer,” Schelling adds. “Planned Parenthood is a trusted organization, and it has the ability to expand this care in areas where folks don’t have any other access to these services.”
The first Planned Parenthood affiliate began providing hormone therapy in 2005, and currently over 100 Planned Parenthood health centers in 28 states offer gender-affirming hormone therapy.
After PPGC added hormone therapy to its Northville and New Orleans centers, Kumar says the nonprofit saw higher rates of trans and gender-nonconforming patients visiting those locations. This solidified PPGC’s decision to begin offering these services at Prevention Park.
“Houston is such a large area, and folks have to drive very far just to get from one side of the city to the other,” Kumar says. “Prevention Park, being central, is convenient for many people, so we wanted to make sure we had these services in that location.”
Kumar says PPGC makes its healthcare affirming to trans and gender-nonconforming patients by educating its staff to be knowledgable about gender identity and expression, and the issues that trans people face.
“Our staff is trained to be sensitive, welcoming, and aware of what our patients experience,” Kumar says. “They do their best to make sure that every experience is attuned to what a patient wants and needs. We also elicit feedback from people who come into our centers, so they let us know if there’s anything we need to improve on.”
Human Rights Campaign (HRC) is a partner of Planned Parenthood locally and nationally, and supports its trans-affirming health services, says HRC Texas State Director Rebecca Marques.
“These services are much-needed, especially in Houston,” Marques says. “We’re happy to know that our trans community will be in good hands, as Planned Parenthood patients always get the high-quality, nonjudgmental healthcare that they need.”
PPGC will follow the “informed consent” model for patients who need hormone therapy, meaning the decision regarding treatment choice rests with the patient alone.
In the past, trans patients were expected to undergo extensive talk therapy in order to access medical interventions for their needs. Under this approach, the ultimate decision about who was a candidate for hormone treatment rested with the therapist.
“Folks who come in seeking gender-affirming hormone therapy have already thought about it, and know what is best for them,” Kumar says. “Medical standards show that requiring a doctor’s note for hormone therapy is unnecessary, and we trust our patients to make the best decisions for their lives and their health.”
While PPGC was unable to offer hormone therapy until recently, Kumar notes that the centers have always worked with trans patients, who still have access to the centers’ many other healthcare services.
“Trans folks who visit Planned Parenthood aren’t only coming in for hormone therapy,” Kumar says. “We want to emphasize that we offer a wide range of services, including HIV prevention, STI testing and treatment, abortion care, pregnancy testing, and more.”
Those who would like to schedule an appointment to discuss trans healthcare with a Planned Parenthood doctor must be 18 years old and up, and should visit plannedparenthood.org for information and resources.
This article appears in the November 2019 edition of OutSmart magazine.