Ohio is now home to a first-of-its-kind health center.

 

"This is the very first space in Ohio that has been designed specifically for the transgender, gender-non-conforming, youth of color. Its unprecedented," Program Director Cory Frederick said.

The Mozaic Center in Columbus is now open.

 

Organizers say the center will serve the trans community with health resources, positive messages, a thrift store with gender-affirming clothing and a sense of community.

"Our program is really targetted to address some of those additional barriers to health care. These young people are often underserved, unrecognized and unheard in their homes, in their schools," Frederick said.

The center is funded by the Center for Disease Control with $2.9 million for five years.

Its run by Equitas Health which is a nonprofit healthcare system which focuses on serving the LGBTQ community.

Only seven grants like this were awarded nationwide.

Orono native Nicole Maines made history with her family in 2014, when they won a lawsuit against the Orono school district, winning the right for transgender students in the state of Maine to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity.

 

Maines will make history again this week, when she debuts as TV’s first transgender superhero on The CW’s series “Supergirl.”

Maines, now 21, will have a featured role in season four of “Supergirl,” starring as Nia Nal, a precocious, passionate new reporter who joins Kara Danvers — aka Supergirl — at CatCo, the media group where they work. Kara takes Nia under her wing, with Nia destined to eventually become the precognitive superhero Dreamer. The new season premieres Sunday, Oct. 14 on The CW; check your local listings for channel numbers.

 

In an interview in August with website The Mary Sue, Maines described how meaningful it is for her to play a transgender superhero.

“First and foremost, had I had a trans superhero growing up, that would have changed the game,” Maines said, “and so now, getting to be the trans superhero for a generation of kids is so special to me. … I just hope that everyone watching this show is going to get to love Nia as much as I do because she is so cool. She’s sweet. She’s caring. She’s got this fierce drive to her and this intensity, and she’s so amazing, and I just really hope that I’m doing her justice.”

Maines was at the center of a protracted court battle that began in 2007, when Asa Adams Elementary School told Maines that she could no longer use the girl’s bathroom at the school, after the grandfather of a male student complained.

Seven years later, in 2014, Maines and her family won the lawsuit, with the Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruling that transgender students have the right to use the school bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity. It was the first time any court in the nation ruled it unlawful to force a transgender child to use the school bathroom designated for the sex he or she was born with, rather than the one with which the child identifies.

Maines moved to Portland in 2013 and graduated from high school there in 2015. She enrolled at the University of Maine in Orono that fall to study studio art but left school after the Spring 2018 semester to focus on her acting. She has relocated to Vancouver, British Columbia, where “Supergirl” is filmed.

“Supergirl” is not her first TV appearance — in 2015 Maine was featured on the USA Network show “Royal Pains,” playing a transgender teen. In 2016, she was featured in the HBO documentary “The Trans List.” She is also set to appear in the 2019 horror-comedy feature film “Bit.”

Transgender people often require a great deal of medical care. Mental health counseling, hormone therapy, speech language therapy, mastectomy, facial feminization, sperm retrieval or egg freezing — just to name a few — can cost thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of dollars.

But if an insurance provider classifies a procedure as "cosmetic" rather than "medically necessary," trans people are forced to pay out-of-pocket. Or risk going without care that can be vital to their health.

Even when insurers won't cover certain procedures, some employers will step in and offer coverage. In the last decade, hundreds of companies have revised their healthcare plans to financially assist employees in gender transition and gender affirmation surgery. In 2009, when the Human Rights Campaign first began asking companies about transgender-inclusive benefits as part of their company rankings, only 49 major US employers offered them. In 2018, HRC says a record 759 companies now offer transgender-inclusive healthcare coverage.

"To get to that point, at HRC, we had to do a lot of educating not only of the companies and the benefits managers about what it means, but also of insurance companies, what it means to be able to offer it and fulfill it," says Beck Bailey, deputy director of HRC's workplace equality program.

 The realities of care

Not all transgender people want or need medical assistance as they transition. But for those who do, the process can be time consuming and extremely expensive.

Many insurers will deem hormone therapy or other procedures as "medically necessary" for the treatment of gender dysphoria, the distress a person experiences when confronted by the difference between their current body and their gender identity. But a slew of other procedures, like speech therapy or further surgery, can also be considered elective.

As a Master's student and former staff assistant at the University of Michigan, Vidhya Aravind says she paid out-of-pocket for procedures that were vital to her health. She says explaining that to cisgender people is taxing.

"I think that even well-meaning cis people who consider themselves allies don't know what trans people go through to get medical care," she says. "For 99% of things, our healthcare is great. But for trans things, it's completely a disaster."

Throughout the last year, she has been working with other graduate students to make medical care more accessible for her transgender colleagues.

Aravind and her fellow student Monica Lewis both received coverage from University of Michigan's GradCare, the insurance plan provided to unionized graduate student employees.

Aravind and Lewis say it's not uncommon for transgender peers to travel out of the state for surgery, looking for a provider they trust. Both trans women have paid out-of-pocket for procedures, even canceling some because of financial strain.

"The end result is I was making less than my [cisgender] colleagues, because I was paying out-of-pocket for some of these procedures that I don't believe I could've done without," Lewis says.

Companies expanding care

Some well-known American companies, like Starbucks and Pinterest, for example, offer coverage for trans people.

"We believe everyone should have the opportunity to create a life they love and feel welcome at work," Candice Morgan, head of inclusion and diversity at Pinterest, said in a statement to CNN. "That's why we offer a range of benefits to help our employees across their lives, including gender affirmation and fertility treatments, and continue to foster an inclusive culture that embraces diversity."

Companies like Starbucks have pioneered trans-inclusive coverage. Since 2012, employees at the coffee chain have been able to rely on Starbucks coverage for gender affirmation surgery. Starbucks also comps some procedures other employers consider too "cosmetic" to cover, like hair transplants, electrolysis, facial feminization or masculinization.

When putting together the pieces of its trans-inclusive healthcare benefit, Starbucks first asked its employees — they call them "partners" — what they considered necessary as part of their healthcare package. From there, the company decided to extend the benefit to all partners who work 20 hours or more a week, says Reggie Borges, senior manager of global communications at Starbucks. That means even if you're balancing a Starbucks job part time, you're eligible to receive that care.

"It was something our VP of Benefits was really passionate about," Borges says. "We understood, 'If we're going to do this, we need to do this the right way, for partners who want to go through this transition."

There may be a link between being transgender and a person’s genetic makeup, according to a recent study.

The study was published on the 21st of September in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

Researchers looked at 380 trans women as well as 344 non-transgender men in Australia and the United States, studying connections between gender dysphoria and a dozen sex hormone signaling genes.

What they found was startling: a “significant association” was found between several genes and gender dysphoria, signaling strong likelihood that transgender people are different from non-transgender people at a genetic level.

The research backs up other studies that point to a biological component to transgender identity, including a study from May that shows that brain activity in transgender adolescents is strongly similar to that in those of the sex they identify with.

Studies like this also reinforce the point that transgender activists have long put forth: trans people are not “mentally ill,” but are indeed the sex they identify with, not that which their physical body may display.

We reached out to transgender community members across the United States, to find out what’s in their minds as we head into the midterms.

The direction the country is going is a primary concern, with most concerned that the struggle for transgender rights today is more about holding onto what we have versus seeking new victories. 

We reached out to transgender community members across the United States, to find out what’s in their minds as we head into the midterms.

The direction the country is going is a primary concern, with most concerned that the struggle for transgender rights today is more about holding onto what we have versus seeking new victories.

“My biggest concerns going into these midterms are trying — as hard as we can — to regain some control over at least one of the houses of congress to slow the pace of the attacks on trans people’s rights to exist safely in public,” said one nonbinary person from Delaware when asked what she was most concerned about this election.

They added, “We are scared, and we are angry, and we are right to be.”

“Basic survival for transgender and gender non-conforming people is really the only issue on my mind,” added Jillian Hanlon, a transgender woman from upstate NY. “These are scary times we live in.”

“At this point, my politics are triage – whatever I can do to minimize harm to *any and all* marginalized folks, that’s where my vote goes,” summed up Jane S., a trans woman from Memphis.  “Idealism is out the window, because there are no perfect candidates, and we can’t let perfection get in the way of survival

For most asked, the issues were simple, with concerns about passports, health care, and employment amongst the key issues.

“When I think of what issues impact trans people in particular and how they may be shaped by the midterms, I think of… federal judicial appointments, immigration and asylum policies, employment law protections, access to healthcare and insurance coverage for trans related healthcare, and administrative policies and procedures vis-a-vis transition (e.g. passports, TSA, social security),” said Spencer Bergstedt, a trans man living in Washington state.

“Conservatives, especially religious conservatives, have made it clear that they want us to cease existing,” Hanlon added. “Bathroom bills are a back door way to criminalize us. The attacks against trans students by the Department of Education are designed to make it impossible for TGNC youth to exist in the educational environment. The current difficulty in trans and gender non-conforming people in having their passports renewed is an attempt to police our identities. And all are only made possible by a lack of any kind of explicit statutory framework.”

“The attacks on trans [people] serving in the military (how many of us can survive, get a job, and get affirming healthcare), on our ability to be supported and affirmed in public schools, and the broader attacks on our healthcare,” added the aforementioned nonbinary person from Delaware.

“I’m deathly afraid of trans being re-declared a pre-existing condition and for ALL healthcare coverage (even non trans related) being denied once again.  And at the most fundamental level, the scant protections we get from Title IX being overruled and erased.  The broad attacks on our rights from every angle possible, fueled by the extra-empowered evangelical conservative front are gaining speed, and when more attacks on the federal level succeed, they will be followed by thousands of related attacks on local fronts.”

The makeup of the Supreme Court was weighing heavily on those asked too, given its potential impact.

“Regardless of what happens to Kavanaugh, we’ve lost the Supreme Court. We have an increasingly authoritarian and unchecked Executive branch. Without an independent Legislative branch, all will most certainly be set back decades, if not lost entirely,” said Hanlon.

“I’m disappointed by the rightward lean of the Supreme Court and the Courts of Appeals. The GOP blocked Obama court picks that I considered centrists for political purposes only. It is apparent that they are trying to stack the cards against people they consider rightfully marginalized. Apparently we are ground zero in the culture war.” said Diane Strano, a trans woman in Pennsylvania.

There were also plenty of local and state issues on people’s minds, though many still tied into the broader struggle against the erosion of trans rights.

Elizabeth Toni Clair, a trans woman from Colorado, worried about her state in the wake of Trump administration attacks, and is hoping the state retains a democratic governor.

“For transgender people the state has had it pretty good the past few years going back to Governor Bill Ritter who signed 2008 signed the Anti-Discrimination Act and laws that made public accommodations possible. Governor Hickenlooper opted into Medicaid expansion and gave a lot of people access to medical care. The current candidate for Governor, Jared Polis, is an out and open gay man and I can’t say what he will or won’t do for transgender Coloradoans but I’d bet on keeping the blue streak going,” Clair said.

Jenn Dolari, a trans woman from Washintgon, felt similarly about her own state.

“Generally, I’m always concerned about healthcare, given I’m diabetic. However, as a trans woman in Seattle, I’m mostly worried about bathroom bills — anything that really undermines trans rights. We’re lucky in the Pacific Northwest that we’ve got a ton of protections. It’s not perfect, but I’m very, very, very worried about having those protections whittled away.”

One final — and important — thread that many shared: this isn’t solely an issue of transgender rights, but the rights of several groups are a concern going into the midterms.

“We cannot work on any intersectional issues if we do not exist. And yet reproductive freedom IS bodily agency – the freedom to transition. Economic and racial justice also affect our ability to exist, especially for people of color,” said Hanlon.

Riley Johnson, a trans man from Florida, summed it up this way, “I live in a place of privilege as a white, straight-seeming, male-seeming person, but I know many among us are not as lucky. Trans women, nonbinary folks, and basically anyone who is a POC, immigrant, or Muslim have much more at stake. I feel like my job as a privileged person is to fight tooth and nail alongside those who are under attack in a deeper way.”

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