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Saturday, June 15, 2024

UF transgender community faces legislation restricting access to health care, bathrooms

Transgender students find support from on-campus groups

<p>Protestors for transgender access to healthcare gather at the corner of University Avenue and 13th Street to begin a march toward the Student Health Care Center where some will perform an “inject-in” of HRT Friday, April 7, 2023.</p>

Protestors for transgender access to healthcare gather at the corner of University Avenue and 13th Street to begin a march toward the Student Health Care Center where some will perform an “inject-in” of HRT Friday, April 7, 2023.

Raven Hooper visited the Planned Parenthood in Gainesville for a hormone treatment appointment eleven days after she graduated from UF.

Hooper has received gender-affirming care from the clinic since April 2021.

In the middle of her hormone treatment, a nurse practitioner informed Hooper State Bill 254 had just passed, jeopardizing her access to gender-affirming care. The nurse told Hooper she wanted to go home and cry. 

“I gave her a hug,” Hooper said. “It was really f---ing sad.”

Planned Parenthood released a statement announcing a pause on gender-affirming services until June 12, following the passage of SB 254. 

SB 254 imposes a series of restrictions on gender-affirming care in Florida. The law bans new prescriptions of hormones and puberty blockers for minors for the purpose of gender dysphoria.

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the bill into law effective immediately May 17.

“It’s been pretty terrifying,” Hooper said. “DeSantis and his cronies are trying to take away my rights and the rights of my friends and my partner and the people I love.” 

Under the law, only physicians can administer gender-affirming prescriptions and procedures.

Nurse practitioners, who provide 80 percent of gender-affirming care for adults, will not be able to continue providing care, according to Spektrum Health, an Orlando-based gender-affirming care provider.

It also creates a requirement for adult patients seeking gender-affirming care for the first time to sign an informed consent form. The Florida Board of Medicine and Osteopathic Medicine’s Joint Rules and Legislative Committee must produce an official informed consent form by July 16.

The law has been life-altering for UF students like Hooper, who receive gender-affirming care, and for the doctors providing it.

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“People have really been scrambling to try and figure out their own care,” Hooper said.

Many doctors are scared to treat their patients because they don’t know what is legal under the law, Hooper said.

Members of the medical community continue to express concerns about the implications of state legislation regulating gender-affirming care.

Michael Haller, a pediatric endocrinologist practicing in Gainesville, said the legislation is meant to confuse the trans and nonbinary community.

“These intentionally nebulous laws have had a major chilling effect on patients being able to seek and receive care,” Haller said.

While the law prohibits new prescriptions, minors who were prescribed hormones and blockers prior to May 18 will be able to renew prescriptions, and psychological care is still available for all patients regardless of age.

“We continue to see our patients, including minors, so that even when we can’t provide prescriptions we can help them understand what is currently legal and what is being done to overturn some of these barbaric laws,” Haller said.

Haller remains optimistic that the legislation will be fought in the courts, he said.

“Ultimately, justice must prevail,” Haller said.

UF Health provides a variety of gender-affirming care services, including hormone therapy, gender-affirming surgeries and mental health care. Additional initiatives like the Youth Gender Program continue to offer pediatric services for social and medical transitioning after the passage of SB 254.

 “UF Health’s Youth Gender Program continues to provide options to existing patients based on our health care providers’ medical expertise and in compliance with state law,” UF Health wrote.

Within the university community, UF students and faculty have criticized the intentions of SB 254.

Jonathan Stephens, president of the UF Pride Student Union, criticized the bill’s definition of gender-affirming care for minors as “serious physical harm.” 

“They use the guise of parental control to be able to push things like the ‘Don't Say Gay’ bill or blocking gender-affirming care for minors,” he said.

SB 254 is not the only bill affecting the trans and nonbinary community at UF. DeSantis signed House Bill 1521 into law May 17. The law restricts transgender people from using public bathrooms that align with their gender identity. The bill becomes effective July 1.

UF student groups have been proactive in developing a solution.

The Queer Liberation Front, a coalition of queer and trans students fighting for liberation at UF, has held protests against the legislation and is working with campus officials to implement gender-inclusive bathrooms.

Erin Bischof, a member of the organization, believes the bill’s definitions of gender-neutral bathrooms as single-occupant rooms limits the ability to convert existing gendered bathrooms into gender-inclusive ones.

Single-occupant bathrooms are costly and limit the ability to convert existing gendered bathrooms into gender-inclusive ones, she said. 

Bischof expressed concern over the lack of response from the UF administration.

“It has been in a limbo, and that is completely unfair to every student who is worried about their future on campus,” Bischof said. 

Ryan Need, a Department of Materials Science and Engineering assistant professor who identifies as queer, is disappointed by UF administration’s response to state legislation.

“It’s really discouraging to not feel like the upper administration in the school is engaging with us and willing to protect us,” Need said. “That doesn't create a lot of confidence for those of us that want to stay.” 

Need, who co-chairs QueerNation and the LGBTQ+ Presidential Advisory Committee, is unsure of how the law will be implemented in public universities.

The Board of Governors will ultimately decide how the law will be enforced, they said.

Need remains optimistic about the fate of the trans and nonbinary community at UF despite the implications of the legislation, they said.

“The biggest effect of these bills right now is the fear that they induce,” Need said. “How do we combat fear? Community and joy.” 

UF is home to many queer communities, including the Trans@UF, the Black Queer Table and Queer Asian Pacific Islander Desi at UF.

The UF Trans & Allies Discord server gives trans and nonbinary UF students an opportunity to network and share information with their peers.

Hooper began the server in September 2021 through the official UF student hub on Discord as a way to provide the trans and nonbinary community at UF with a platform for mutual support.

“I know a lot of people that have joined because they're unsure of their gender,” Hooper said. “People there that have had a lot of experience in the area helped them figure themselves out,”  

Tessa Sun, a recent UF alumna, joined the server shortly after its creation. She credited the community with helping her through her own journey with gender-affirming care.

“Having that support for me personally has made the biggest difference and I genuinely don’t think I could have done it without this community,” Sun said. “I hope that we can continue to move forward.”

Contact Garrett at Follow him on Twitter @garrettshanley.

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Garrett Shanley

Garrett Shanley is a fourth-year journalism major and the Summer 2024 university editor for The Alligator. Outside of the newsroom, you can find him watching Wong Kar-Wai movies and talking to his house plants.

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