‘Together we can create a network of allies to support trans care’
This month, 70 health-care practitioners from four universities and colleges will converge on Concordia to participate in an unprecedented training event. Trans Health Training: Towards a Collaborative Model is expected to be the first and largest event of its kind for post-secondary institutions in Quebec.
The May 10 to 12 event will bring together specialists from Concordia, McGill, Dawson College and John Abbott College to learn best practices for delivering care to transgender students.
“The purpose is to give attendees the tools that are required not only to provide sensitive and targeted care to trans students, but also to navigate trans identities through care,” says Gabrielle Bouchard, trans advocate and public educator at Concordia’s Centre for Gender Advocacy.
“Unfortunately, trans care is more often than not defined by the complete lack thereof. Trans people are routinely denied services simply because they are trans.”
The costs of discrimination against trans people are high and many trans students avoid using health services as a result. In 2013-14, the Canadian Trans Youth Health Survey found that only 15 per cent of trans youth between the ages of 14 and 25 felt comfortable discussing their trans-specific health-care needs with a family doctor.
The same study revealed that more than two thirds of youth reported self-harm in the past year and more than one in three had attempted suicide.
Bouchard hopes that through training, practitioners can remove the barriers that exist in regular care so that trans students can be better received and doctors can be better equipped to deal with matters specific to trans health.
Assessing the bigger picture
The seeds of the event were planted a year ago when staff from the deputy provost’s office and the Centre for Gender Advocacy met to discuss how they could improve services for trans students.
Tasked with identifying the best practices for addressing trans health and well-being needs at Concordia, Campus Wellness and Support Services (CWSS) director Gaya Arasaratnam set out to compare practices within the greater Montreal community.
“In assessing the bigger picture, I came to realize that other universities and colleges were grappling with the same questions,” says Arasaratnam.
“I recognized that together we had the capacity to create a wonderful cross-institution network of allies supporting trans health, and raise the bar together.”
In keeping with the holistic approach preferred by CWSS, the event will address trans health within the larger framework of health and well-being. In Concordia’s case, that means integrating training across the CWSS portfolio. This encompasses 40 staff members from Health Services, Counselling and Psychological Services and the Access Centre for Students with Disabilities.
Arasaratnam hopes to integrate support into every level of these services so that Concordia students who identify as trans will be supported throughout their journey at the university.
The first priority, she says, is to create a welcoming space and environment.
“McGill and Concordia are key partners on this initiative, and pioneering physicians from both institutions will learn how to initiate hormone therapy for students who wish to begin their transition at university. We will be the first institutions in Quebec to do so.”
‘Even the playing field’
Bouchard agrees that this is a significant development that puts Concordia at the forefront of trans inclusion in Quebec.
“As it stands now, you have a hit-or-miss situation. Some doctors will renew or maintain hormone therapy but others with transphobic attitudes will not permit it,” she explains.
“The training offered will even the playing field by providing all practitioners with the knowledge required for initiating and maintaining therapy.”
According to Bouchard, this knowledge is not limited to hormones, however, and may also include surgery and the provision of trans-sensitive pap tests and prostate exams. In all cases, the prerequisite for establishing these services is tackling discrimination.
“We need to create language and protocol that remove the barriers that come with services traditionally conceived as gendered.”
Find out more about Concordia’s Campus Wellness and Support Services (CWSS) and the Centre for Gender Advocacy.