In another trailblazing move that has become synonymous with the organization, the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago became the first of its kind in the United States to adopt a program and policy initiative safeguarding the civil rights of transgender and gender-nonconforming youth.
Announced March 16, the initiative recognizes the "increased risk of physical, emotional and sexual abuse" faced by gender nonconforming and transgender children alongside the "psychological trauma and physical violence as they transition from their assigned sex and to their affirmed gender identity" and the "significant emotional impact that stigmatization has on transgender children and families."
The policy goes on to highlight some of the appalling results of that stigmatization. "89.5 [percent] of transgender students do not feel safe in their schools," it reads. "50 [percent] of transgender students report regularly skipping school because of safety concerns."
It adds that "78 [percent] transgender and gender nonconforming youth report facing harassment," and that "15 [percent] of transgender and gender non-conforming students face harassment so severe that they drop out of school."
The far too often result of those overwhelming barriers is noted as part of the policy's denouementa number savagely familiar to the transgender and gender nonconforming communities, but one that society at large seems reluctant to address: "41 [percent] of gender diverse individuals report attempting suicide, which is significantly higher than the national average."
Robert Garofalo is the division head of adolescent medicine at Lurie and a professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University. "Probably unlike any hospital program in the country, when Lurie decided they wanted to establish a gender and sex development program, from the CEO down, this hospital was all in," he told Windy City Times. "They wanted to understand the issue. They wanted to get to know this population. It was a comprehensive commitment to our growth and the work that we do."
Lurie Gender and Sex Development Program Manager Jennifer Leininger said that, in the fall of 2015, staff began to meet in order to take on a litany of questions that would help address the support of transgender people campus-wide.
"What do all students need in order to be successful? What do all children need in terms of access to care?" she recalled. "Where are those states that are less safe and how can we combat that as a medical and mental health institution?"
The resulting initiative set an example with a high bar. It was one easily attainable for Lurie while proving that it is not out of the reach of the 50 percent of medical providers whom transgender Americans report having to teach about transgender care along with the 19 percent who refused care based gender identitya challenge glaringly noted in the policy's wording.
"Being denied healthcare or having to teach a provider about your needs if not something that anyone should face or have to do," Leininger said. "Just like cisgender people, your job as a transgender individual is to be a patient. It is not to be a teacher all the time. It can be really trying and sometimes makes people less inclined to access medical and mental health facilities even if they need them."
Yet setting an example for other medical and mental health institutions was not the only reason for Lurie's decision.
"The health issues of the transgender and gender nonconforming population bled into civil rights issues," Garofalo said. "We were being asked to take stands on civil rights cases, for example the bathroom case in Palatine. There were repeated requests for us to write an amicus brief or sign a petition and we realized that the hospital had policies in place but they were not generally designed for a rapid response. So we initiated a conversation with Lurie Hospital leadership to adopt a broad, sweeping policy supporting the health, wellbeing and civil rights of the kids that we see. It helps us be more expedient in doing the work that we want to do."
Garofolo added that he worked closely with Leininger as those conversations were held first with Lurie's government affairs office and then the policy committee.
"It was passed unanimously by the policy board and, on March 3rd, it went in front of the main board where is also passed without issue," Leininger said.
As part of her long list of duties, Leininger also regularly visits local schools to offer assistance and transgender sensitivity training for faculty and staff. The cause and effect between wellbeing in an educational setting and health is profoundly apparent.
"We want to make sure that all kids are safe and engaged in their education," she said. "It has a positive impact on their health. Whether its legislation that's coming up or board policies that schools are adopting, we want to make sure that people know that, in terms of medical and mental health needs, young people need to be supported."
While national organizations such as The American Psychological Association, The Pediatric Endocrinology Nursing Society, The National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners and The National Association of School Psychologists among others maintain transgender and gender nonconforming inclusive policies, the move by Lurie as the first children's hospital in the United States to adopt one further heightens the profound regard held by both Garofolo and Leininger in their institution and the work which lies ahead.
"I actually got tearful during one of the conversations when I talked about how proud I was of this hospital adopting this policy for these young people who have been too often overlooked and mistreated," Garofolo said. "I don't think I've ever had more pride in being affiliated with Lurie and this program."
To read the policy, visit: www.luriechildrens.org/en-us/community/government-relations/Documents/transgender_and_gender_nonconforming.pdf .