While activists and politicians continue to advocate for transgender rights across the country, people who are transgender, non-binary and gender diverse in the South Bay never have had specialized access to healthcare for years.
Santa Clara County established the Gender Health Center in November 2018—the first of its kind in the nation. The need for the health center came after then-President of the Board of Supervisors Ken Yeager called for a health assessment of the LGBTQ+ community in his January 2013 State of the County address. Not surprising, the report found that 28% of transgender, gender non-binary, and gender expansive people had experienced healthcare discrimination, while 38% were unable to access medical care at all.
Part of the second largest county-owned health and hospital system in the state of California, it was the first all-ages clinic dedicated to LGBTQ-centered medical, mental and emotional health care, including social work. By having the ability to partner with institutions across the county system, more comprehensive care can be readily provided for needs like transitioning, which often requires physical, mental and emotional support.
This unique opportunity within a public health system is why Jules Chyten-Brennan, the center’s medical director, moved from New York City to guide the center’s work two years ago. They said concerns ranging from hormones and loneliness to unsupportive families and unstable employment environments are more easily addressed when hosting services under one roof.
“The center is not just giving people hormones and doing those things which are essential,” they said, “It’s really seeing someone as a whole person, and being able to reach across those different departments to treat someone like a whole person.”
The need for the Gender Health Center was clear.
When Sera Fernando, a senior management analyst in the county’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs, first came out as transgender, she had to travel to Santa Cruz or San Francisco monthly to find resources like a therapist and treatment.
When options finally became accessible in San Jose, she said those resources allowed her to live more authentically and create community in the place she was born and raised.
The specified care expanded beyond the Gender Health Center. Since LGBTQ folks comprise nearly one-third of homeless youth and young adults under the age of 25 and 10% of homeless adults, a separate, federally funded Gender Clinic within the Valley Homeless Healthcare Program was also started to offer a one-stop approach where people can access a primary care doctor, mental health support and housing assessments.
Being the first in the nation doesn’t mean the work stops to address gaps still present in healthcare. While 2019 solidified work in areas like primary care and surgery options, Jules said they staff will start offering services like speech therapy and electrolysis in the coming months, as well as partnering with community support groups.
“I think (those additions are) rare to have in a clinic in general, and will be such a huge door opened for a lot of our community,” they said. “We know so much of our health is not what happens in the clinic, but it’s community connection, finding those other supports that bring joy to our lives.”