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Thursday, April 18, 2024

UF transgender community reacts to gender-affirming care audit

Report due Feb. 10 at DeSantis office’s request

<p>Nine members of the UF wildlife ecology and conservation department’s Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access Committee wrote a letter criticizing the guidelines and called upon the UF community to advocate for transgender healthcare access for children.</p>

Nine members of the UF wildlife ecology and conservation department’s Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access Committee wrote a letter criticizing the guidelines and called upon the UF community to advocate for transgender healthcare access for children.

In light of the DeSantis administration's memo requesting information on the number of students receiving gender-affirming care through university resources, UF's transgender community is left worried about the future of treatment options.

Treatment that could be considered gender-affirming care provided through UF Health, the university’s medical network, includes hormone therapy, hair removal, voice therapy, urology, OBGYN services, surgical procedures and mental health services. UF Health is staffed with nationally recognized endocrinologists who aid with gender-affirming hormone therapy, according to UF Health.

Andrea Slaven, a 34-year-old UF geomatics junior who identifies as transgender, began receiving hormone therapy through the UF Student Healthcare Center in fall 2021. She’s concerned about the fate of UF’s gender-affirming care services.

“[UF Health] helped me through one of the toughest times of my life so far,” she said. “I can't speak highly enough of the services they provided.”

The memo requests the number of encounters for gender confirmation treatment starting from Jan. 1, 2018. This includes how many first-time patients sought treatment and the facilities to which they were referred, as well as the number of patients diagnosed with gender identity disorders and at which stage of treatment they were diagnosed. 

DeSantis’ administration also requested the number of individuals prescribed puberty blockers, hormones or hormone antagonists and those who underwent medical procedures, broken down by age. It also asks for the number of those who received any degree of mental health counseling prior to their services.

The memo notes that responses shouldn’t contain personally identifiable or protected health information.

UF Health’s spokespeople didn’t respond to requests for comment on the memo in time for publication.

Gender dysphoria describes the anxiety an individual may experience when their biological sex doesn’t match their gender identity, according to UF Health. Gender-affirming care is a form of health care that treats transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals struggling with gender dysphoria. 

Without her UF health insurance, Slaven said she would have to seek more expensive treatment through organizations like Planned Parenthood. Although she currently works part-time at UF RecSports, affording more expensive treatment would require her to work a second job, which would be difficult with her rigorous school schedule. 

Slaven believes actions, like the memo taken by the DeSantis administration, reflect how threatened some are by the existence of transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals. 

“Once somebody who is trans is able to get a degree from a great school, start a business or get to a position of power, it's inspiring for younger queer folks,” she said. “The administration can't have that.”

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While it remains unclear how the DeSantis administration plans to use the requested information, the audit concerns “governing institutional resources and protecting the public interest,” according to the memo.

Throughout DeSantis' governorship, Florida has made headlines regarding controversial legislation, such as banning Medicaid coverage for gender-affirming care and barring minors from receiving gender-affirming care to treat gender dysphoria.

Alex Noon, a 23-year-old second-year UF law student and president of OUTLaw, the law school’s LGBTQ organization, is frustrated with the language sprinkled throughout the request. 

“The language that is used in the memo is purposely outdated for this purpose of dehumanizing and alienating trans people,” said Noon, who identifies as transgender.

The use of “sex-reassignment treatment” instead of “gender confirmation” emphasizes their biological sex instead of their expressed gender identity, perpetuating the idea that there is no difference, Noon said. 

Using the phrase “subjective sense of identity” to define an individual’s gender suggests a transgender person's gender identity is subjective and doesn’t need to be acknowledged by others, Noon added.

Noon fears the DeSantis administration will use the data to attack transgender health care by withholding funding from universities that make gender-affirming care accessible to students. 

This possibility could be dangerous for transgender students who come from unsafe home situations where they are denied treatment. University health care services may be the first opportunity for many transgender people to receive the treatment they need, he said.

He hopes that UF would double down on providing gender-affirming care services for students, considering UF Health has continued its Youth Gender program through DeSantis’ repeated attacks on transgender health care for minors, he said.

However, Noon said he has little to no doubt that UF would limit student access to gender-affirming care to appease the DeSantis administration.

“At the very, very least, there are going to be way more hoops to jump through,” he said.

As much of the memo focused on mental health services, Noon said he could see UF implementing a required amount of behavioral therapy for patients before they are able to receive treatment. 

Noon receives gender-affirming care from the Equal Access Clinic, a UF Health Family Medicine branch that serves all of the Gainesville community. He warned that if UF restricts its transgender health care services, groups other than students – such as low-income people – may also be impacted. 

Noon is also concerned about the increased transphobia Florida universities might see due to the DeSantis administration singling out transgender students with this request. 

“With trans people, privacy is safety,” he said. “To lose any ounce of privacy can quickly become super unsafe.”

Noon said he wants UF to condemn this memo as a political move from the DeSantis administration. 

State Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, who has heavily advocated for LGBTQ rights throughout her career, said she’s alarmed by the memo and finds the lack of explanation for wanting the information provided by the DeSantis administration unethical and unsettling.

She’d prefer Florida universities collectively ignore the memo in an effort to protect their transgender students’ access to health care services. 

As suicide rates and violence against transgender people climb, she worries how the memo may threaten the safety of transgender students on campus.

“We've seen an onslaught of attacks on the LGBTQ+ community in Florida, specifically transphobia, coming out of the governor's office,” she said. “There's no safe place for trans people in Florida at this point.”

Eskamani mentioned providing the DeSantis administration with this information is a slippery slope that may put the privacy and accessibility of other types of medical care at risk. 

With the outcomes of the audit unclear, Slaven is confident her community will persevere.

No matter what the DeSantis administration does next, transgender students statewide will continue fighting to express their gender identity and maintain access to gender-affirming care, she said.

“I know that we've always existed and will continue to exist regardless of what laws are put in place,” she said. “We're a resilient community and will always figure out a way.” 

Alissa Gary contributed to this report.

Contact Amanda at Follow her on Twitter @amandasfriedman.

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Amanda Friedman

Amanda Friedman is a senior journalism major and the Enterprise Editor at The Alligator. She previously wrote for the Avenue, Metro and University desks. When she isn't reporting, she loves watching coming-of-age films and listening to Ariana Grande. 

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