Transgender equality: U.S. physicians must lead the way


Physicians have a duty to uphold to all kinds of people we serve, and transgender people are just that: people.

Dr. Rachel Levine

Dr. Rachel Levine

According to the U.S. Transgender Survey of 2015, one-third of transgender individuals have experienced a negative reaction from a health care provider in the past year. About 40% have attempted suicide in their lifetime, nearly nine times the rate of the U.S. general population. HIV positivity in the transgender community is nearly five times the rate of the U.S. general population.

In many states across the United States, including Pennsylvania, there are no comprehensive nondiscrimination laws that protect members of the LGBTQ community from being denied housing or from being fired because of their sexual orientation or gender identity and expression. Members of the transgender community have experienced brutal, unfair judgment and have been denied fair opportunities.

There have been numerous cases where transgender individuals have been treated unfairly by private businesses and public institutions. These instances include people being physically assaulted, verbally harassed, or denied their basic rights.

The denial of these fundamental rights calls for change, and the responsibility of this shift toward equality falls upon a faction of some of the most important people in our society: American physicians.

As a practicing physician in adolescent medicine, I have watched numerous transgender adolescents deal with the difficult transition process. These patients are at an already vulnerable time of their lives and often need support from those who are in the best position to provide it.

Esteemed medical organizations such as the American Medical Association have iterated their beliefs about the importance of equality in medical treatment several times, mentioning that their support for equal care is blind of gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity.

The AMA has developed numerous policies that support LGBTQ individuals. General policies developed include those on the Continued Support of Human Rights and Freedom, the Nondiscrimination Policy, and Civil Rights Restoration. Several additional physician- and patient-centered policies have also been developed to reinforce the AMA’s support.

As a doctor who can recognize the importance of this initiative, I think it is of utmost importance that physicians support, spearhead, and lead this movement – not as part of a political agenda, but for the purpose of providing aid to a community that has not been receiving the clinical or social acknowledgment it deserves.

Often, transgender patients look to their health care providers for counsel, support, and education when confused about government legislation, insurance policies, and benefits. Yet, many physicians find themselves to be either unaware of the answers or unable to help with current resources at hand when approached about this issue. That is the case despite the wide number of resources and articles that are available to educate physicians to support their patients.

In cases like these, it is imperative that transgender patients, as any other patient would, receive the guidance and support they need. It is a respected obligation to our valued profession that we are continuously learning – exploring, discovering, and seeing the future of treatment for the benefit of those we serve, especially for the growing needs of our transgender patients.

The dynamics of equal treatment for the transgender community require significant action of health care professionals, and it is the will and power of American physicians that will propel this movement toward victory. As a transgender Pennsylvanian and American, I am proud to serve my community, my state, and my nation as the secretary of health for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

In addition to serving as Pennsylvania’s secretary of health, Dr. Levine is professor of pediatrics and psychiatry at Penn State University, Hershey.

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