With Transgender Day of Visibility on Wed., March 31, Planned Parenthood of Illinois (PPIL), one of the largest providers of gender-affirming hormone therapy (GAHT) and general care for transgender patients in the state, continues to celebrate trans people and their contributions to society.
PPIL Transgender Hormone Program Intake Coordinator and GAHT Case Manager Dana Garber (who resides and works in Peoria) explained that a lot places that offer trans care usually provide a strictly a clinical experience. At Planned Parenthood, she said, the affirming care goes beyond prescribing medicine.
When a patient comes to Planned Parenthood, Garber explained, that individual can get an intake interview and get connected to resources they are going to need during their transition, including vocal therapy, laser and electrolysis, surgery, name and gender-marker changes, and support groups and agencies. Additionally, patients can get a confirmation of their diagnosis when a social worker sees them. Insurance companies have been expecting patients to have a diagnosis before covering medication.
"Like we provide letters that they may need for surgery or for name and gender marker changes, things like that, so that's a little extra plus," said Garber, a transwoman. "We're always expanding our services and offering more and more all the time."
"We're the biggest provider [of GAHT] in the United States," said Garber. "So, we've got [more than] 200 health centers in the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, different affiliates in like 33 states, so their gender-affirming care is something that's important to Planned Parenthood and it is expanding all the time. There's more and more [people] getting involved in gender-affirming hormone therapy and here in Illinois we're one of the pioneers. We kind of got this thing started back in 2016."
According to Garber there are about 1,600 GAHT patients just in PPIL. GAHT has expanded from a few health centers to all open health centers throughout the state.
"We are always trying to identify trans friendly primary care doctors," said Garber, who personally vets trans-friendly care providers and creates a list to provide patients. "It's really hard to find affirming providers."
PPIL, Garber said, has a community-engagement department that conducts inclusivity workshops. Garber said she has gone to some of the local medical schools and colleges to teach things like terminology, how to talk to patients, how to chart in their electronic health records and how to greet a patient, so they are addressed properly and feel welcome.
"It's growing all the time and as there's more social acceptance," said Garber. "We're getting out and talking to the community, there's more and more medical providers that are stepping up and saying 'we want to learn more about this, we want to know how to work with the patients.'"
Garber came out as trans later in life and has been living openly for about six years. She said she is "happier than I've ever been."
"It's like having this huge weight off of your chest once you are able to come out and be yourself," said Garber.
Having had the negative experience in the past when filling out a medical form, then being deadnamed and having to explain the name she wanted to use, Garber said she understands what patients go through. She has also had to educate her own primary doctor on the care she personally needed as she transitioned.
"Transgender Day of Visibility is very important to people who are still in the closet who need encouragement to live their lives authentically," Garber said. "That's something I kind of pride myself on. I don't really consider myself a cis-passable person, I'm just Dana, but most transgender people don't pass as cisgender people so for society to expect us to look like everybody else for acceptance [is] unreasonable, I think. So when someone like me is out and very visible and active in the community, it provides inspiration to my younger siblings and ones that are afraid to come out and live their life authentically. They're afraid of societythe backlash from family and employers."
Garber said she sets out to be an example for other trans people.
"So if they see someone like me out in the community and being successful and having employment and things like that, that is very encouraging to them," said Garber. "That's really what Transgender Day of Visibility's aboutfor the community to get out and be visible and it's also so that society can see that we are here, we exist, we've always been here, we're not going away."
Transgender Day of Visibility is the community and coming together and making resources known. Things are posted on organizations' social media and posters are put up in the health centers, supporting the community.
Garber said the goal for Transgender Day of Visibility is to increase the number of out people, encouraging the community be authentic, happy and proud.
"My hope is that we're going to educate society a little bit, they're going to see us out there and see us in their community," said Garber about the future, adding she hopes to see Planned Parenthood get into more primary care. "We are their neighbors, their sons and daughters, their cousins, their employees, so we're not just other people. We're real people in the real world and we would just like to be able to live our lives just like everybody else. So, that's kind of my hope for Transgender Day of Visibility is that we're going to achieve a higher level of that each year and also help the community come out and not hide. Come out and be their authentic selves. Be happy."
For more information on Planned Parenthood of Illinois, visit plannedparenthood.org/planned-parenthood-illinois .