Trans March 2011: Healthcare — A right for every body!

Leah Rorvig

By Leah Rorvig

Leah is a Human Rights Center Fellow and a third-year medical student in the UC Berkeley-UCSF Joint Medical Program. She is interviewing transgender women in San Francisco about their experiences in the healthcare system.

Last weekend was that glorious San Francisco event called Pride. If you live in San Francisco you know it is coming because suddenly rainbow décor predominates over all other possible color combinations. Although most of the events of Pride are to celebrate diverse sexual orientations, one event specifically celebrates gender-identity freedom: Trans March.

Medical students Evie Kalmar and Leah Rorvig at the 2011 Trans March in Dolores Park, San Francisco.

Held on the Friday of Pride Week, the Trans March started in 2004, at least partly in response to the murder of a transgender teenager named Gwen Araujo. (Gwen Araujo was killed in Newark, Calif.— near Fremont — after her transgender identity was discovered.) Thousands of people now attend Trans March every year, which starts with a rally in Dolores Park and ends with a march to Civic Center.

Given my passion for gender identity freedom—and my nearly two years of work on the issue of transgender health care—I decided this year I would attend Trans March with a few signs declaring my position on trans health. I recruited one of my fellow medical students to join me, made a few signs (check out the picture!), and off we went.

The response was phenomenal. We were greeted with many thumbs up and thank yous, and people asking “are you really a medical student?” A trans person and aspiring nurse came and said hello, and I met one of California’s most famous transgender health-focused physicians, Dr. Maddie Deutsch. Given that most days I work in quite a bit of isolation (coding transcripts in my apartment doesn’t always give me that human-rights warrior feeling), getting this positive feedback gave me the energy to continue with my last week of interviews.

After the march I posted a few pictures on Facebook, and a distant friend posted a simple question: “Out of curiosity, what is it that you’re rallying for when you ask for trans healthcare? I thought that was already available.”

Performers at the 2011 Trans March in Dolores Park, San Francisco.

The answer to that question is complicated.

First, transgender healthcare — like most healthcare services—is most readily available to those who can afford it.

Second —like many healthcare services—some of the best healthcare for transgender people is available only in large, liberal urban centers, and is difficult to find in other places. (And even in large liberal cities, there are still problems with healthcare services for transgender people. As part of my study of transgender women, I’ve heard about plenty of disturbing problems with healthcare, even right here in San Francisco.)

Third, all the available evidence points to the fact that healthcare for transgender people is in an abysmal state. The largest survey of its kind found that 28 percent of transgender and gender-nonconforming people had experienced verbal harassment in a doctor’s office, emergency room or other medical setting.

So what is it that I’m rallying for when I ask for “Trans Health Care NOW!”? I’m asking for every transgender person to have access to services where they feel not just safe but welcomed, appreciated and taken care of. No doubt a difficult-to-fill request, when you consider that more than 50 million Americans (nearly one in six people) currently have no healthcare insurance at all. And so perhaps I should have gone with the sign slogan my friend, suggested: Health Care: A Right for Every Body!

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3 Responses to Trans March 2011: Healthcare — A right for every body!

  1. Elisabeth Powelson says:

    Wish I had been there for the march…next year 🙂

  2. Manali Nekkanti says:

    Hi Leah,
    I hope that once your data collection and analysis are complete, you will share your results with trans serving organizations and advocates. Its important that such research be put to use toward efforts to improve health care access in the communities from which it arose. I work at the SF AIDS Foundation and would love to see how your findings could help us serve and advocate for our clients better.

    • Leah Rorvig says:

      Hi Manali–yes, absolutely! Please get in touch with me so that I can make sure to share my results with the SF AIDS Foundation!