Video highlights issues in accessing health care for transgender people

Guest post by Steve Hinnefeld, who normally writes at the Policy Briefings blog:

Visiting a doctor can be unnerving for anyone. But for people who are transgender, it can be a lot worse. From one-size-fits-all medical forms to health care providers who are confused or insensitive about diverse gender identities, issues abound that can make the experience traumatic.

A video written and directed by an IU School of Public Health-Bloomington graduate student aims to help change that. “The Waiting Room: Transgender People and Health Care” is being used in classrooms to raise awareness of transgender issues. And it will debut this month on WTIU, IU’s public TV station.

Bianca Jarvis wrote and directed the 26-minute film, which grew out of her final paper for a Master of Public Health degree. She finished the degree a year ago and now lives in Chicago, where she is a sexual health educator, writer and artist.

Lesa Huber, LaDonna BlueEye and Amaury de Siqueira of the School of Public Health helped expand the project to a teaching module, including the video, with help from a Jesse Fine Fellowship from the Poynter Center for the Study of Ethics and American Institutions. David Huber, a master’s student in the School of Informatics and Computing, served as cinematographer and video editor.

Lesa Huber, executive producer of the video, said it takes a casual and conversational approach to addressing issues about bodies and physical and mental health that some people may find hard to discuss.

“It’s very upbeat,” she said. “For people, particularly in health care, it’s kind of a heads up about how we make assumptions about gender.”

The video will air on WTIU at 3:30 p.m. June 11, 11 p.m. June 21 and 1 p.m. June 26. IU research on the benefits of using the video as a classroom and community teaching tool has been accepted as a poster presentation for the American Public Health Association national meeting in the fall.

“Transgender,” Jarvis says, is an umbrella term used to describe people whose birth sex is not aligned with their self-defined gender identity. Transgender people may face discrimination in a number of areas, including access to basic health care.

Kand McQueen

Kand McQueen

Indiana State University education professor Kand McQueen narrates the video and also appears as an interview subject, discussing what it means to be transgender. It also includes interviews with Jarvis and with transgender individuals Ethan, Nick and Jain discussing their health care experiences and concerns.

A consistent theme is encountering confusion, embarrassment and sometimes dismissiveness or ridicule from health care providers who aren’t comfortable with the idea of transgender people. Some providers will refer to a male-to-female transgender person as “he” or even “it,” for example. Others will look for reasons not to provide care or suggest mental health treatment for physical ailments.

McQueen said there’s often a “knee-jerk” reaction against the idea that someone’s gender identity could be different from the person’s biological sex at birth.

“We don’t need it,” McQueen said. “We have enough on our plate dealing with who we are and trying to make our way in a society that says it’s not possible.”

The video concludes with discussions of ways to improve the health care experience for people who are transgender. Ideas include providing training and outreach for health care personnel and revising medical forms to remove unneeded references to gender.

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