When Gina Duncan transitioned from male to female at age 50, she was lucky that her primary care physician was able to continue serving her. But for others finding a doctor isn’t as easy, a problem Duncan is looking to help change.
As the transgender inclusion director for Equality Florida, Duncan has spent the last year working with transgender leaders and activists around the state to compile a comprehensive list of quality medical resources for transgender individuals.
TransAction Florida, a branch of Equality Florida created to focus on transgender issues, published the guide on September 1. The book will be updated again on October 1 and quarterly after that.
“Transitioning is a challenging and stressful period, and we want to make it a positive and fulfilling life journey,” Duncan said. “That’s our goal.”
Medical services are one of the most immediate needs for transitioning people, Duncan said. The most important are mental health services.
The transgender community has a 41 percent suicide attempt rate, so access to a good counselor or therapist is critical, Duncan said. The guide also focuses on primary care physicians because not all doctors are knowledgeable about treating transgender people.
Another concern is finding surgeons for people seeking gender reassignment surgery. Nine years ago, only four doctors in the country performed this surgery; today there is a quality surgeon in almost every state, Duncan said.
After the guide was released, medical providers all over the state contacted TransAction Florida and asked to be added to the next version, she said. The advisory board has reviewed the submissions, and the October 1 version will be about one-third longer than the original.
In addition to medical resources, the guide currently provides instructions on updating official documents and information on national legal organizations. The next version will add other services, including youth- and veteran-specific transgender support, Duncan said.
Organizations in Georgia, South Carolina, Michigan and Texas have contacted TransAction Florida about releasing similar guides in their states. Duncan said she hopes the guide will help create a better understanding for supporting the transgender community.
“We’re absolutely open to sharing our strategy and information,” she said.
Kaitlin Legg, assistant director for the LGBT Resource Center at University of North Florida, worked with other staff members to add resources to the guide. She said UNF opened the center about 10 years ago and works to provide a safe and comfortable environment for students across the gender identity spectrum.
“We use that resource guide to connect students to the services they need,” Legg said.
The school hosts an annual transgender awareness week on campus and recently introduced gender-inclusive housing in one of its dorms. However, Legg said the northeast region of Florida isn’t always inclusive and welcoming of transgender people. The guide can help individuals find support they might not otherwise discover.
“Unless you’re tapped into the community, it’s very hard to find affirming and competent healthcare providers,” she said.
Other communities have more options. Maureen Killoran, minister at Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Gainesville, began there in August and said she’s been impressed by how comfortable the congregation is with different genders and sexualities.
The church has a policy of welcoming the LGBT community, and Killoran has counseled transgender individuals and their families in other churches she’s served.
“What we’re talking about is human beings who need our love and support,” she said.