Transgender Students Find Expanded Care Options at Health Center
By Lauren Brown
John T. Consoli
Born a female, Louie Dukinfield ’19 knew by seventh grade he wanted his breasts removed. In high school, he wore men’s clothes and asked his parents and friends in his rural Virginia town to stop using his birth name.
Yet it wasn’t until move-in day last fall at UMD, when he saw the “Louie” nameplate in front of his room in Centreville Hall, that he realized, “I’m starting over.”
Back then, he figured he’d have to wait years before getting testosterone injections as another step in his transition. Then he attended Queer Camp at UMD, where he met a transgender graduate student who’d been undergoing hormone therapy and learned the University Health Center (UHC) was offering it.
“I was like, why aren’t I doing this right now? Why am I waiting? Why am I purposely putting myself through being unhappy?”
By January of this year, Dukinfield had completed all the mental-health, clinical and education requirements at the UHC to start his weekly treatments.
The UHC’s expanded commitment to meet the health-care needs of the trans community won the attention of the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, which named the center a 2016 Leader in LGBT Healthcare Equality. Maryland and the University of California, Berkeley were the only two college health centers recognized on the annual index.
It’s one part of the university’s overall efforts to be more welcoming to transgender students, particularly amid a national debate, centered on bathroom access, over the civil rights of transgender people.
In the past several years, UMD began offering gender-inclusive housing to undergraduates who feel uncomfortable rooming with a student sharing their birth sex, and designating and promoting gender-inclusive bathrooms across campus. This fall, the University Senate will consider a bill to ease the process allowing students to use something other than their legal names on class rosters and IDs and in directories.
Since 2011, when the university added gender identity and expression to its nondiscrimination policy, it’s been recognized every year on Campus Pride’s “Top 25 LGBTQ-Friendly Colleges & Universities” list.
“This is a really great place for queer students to come,” says Luke Jensen, longtime director of UMD’s LGBT Equity Center. For transgender students, “we need to be constantly thinking about what more we can do, especially because this is an area of growing awareness in our society.”
Although the university doesn’t track the number of transgender students, UMD’s Trans U student group has 121 Facebook members, and the Department of Residential Life reserves about 1 percent of its 9,450 beds as gender-inclusive, in which students regardless of sex, gender or gender identity share a room with a private bathroom. (Dukinfield, for example, lives with a student who identifies as non-binary, an umbrella term meaning neither, both or outside male or female.)
The Health Center, meanwhile, has seen the number of students undergoing hormone therapy jump from two or three a few years ago to about 15 in Spring 2016, says Family Nurse Practitioner Penny Jacobs. UMD had been helping students maintain their regimens since 2011; the university’s student insurance provider, ship, began covering new treatments three years later.
The Health Center expanded staff training to provide a team-based approach, so students taking this step work with a mental health provider, clinical health provider and health education provider.
“For many people, transition is a major life event. My goal is to support them in this process so they are most adequately prepared and have the most opportunities for success. Sometimes that’s addressing issues of concern outside the Health Center, like when a conversation with your parents didn’t go as well as you hoped or your roommate is bullying you,” says Jenna Beckwith Messman, the sexual health programs coordinator in the uhc. “As long as you’re on campus, we want to make sure you’re connected with someone, and you’re not in this alone.”
Dukinfield, a psychology major who’s in College Park Scholars, had his “top surgery” over winter break, accompanied by his mom. (“I was going with or without her,” he says.)
The UHC staff allows him to take half-doses of testosterone weekly, rather than give himself a full injection every two weeks. That helps regulate Dukinfield’s emotions and reduce the exhaustion that he worried would overwhelm him after a full-size shot.
He doesn’t flinch at the thought of facing that for the rest of his life. He’s just grateful UMD gave him the chance to start.
“They made it so much easier of a process than anything that I’d read about or anything that I’d expected,” he says.
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