Health Care

KU expands care for transgender students at campus health center

What does LGBTQIA mean?

You have heard of LGBT, but do you really know what the letters stand for? And how about QIA? Melissa Winter, youth advocate with the KC Anti-Violence project, breaks down the terminology for you in 90 seconds.
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You have heard of LGBT, but do you really know what the letters stand for? And how about QIA? Melissa Winter, youth advocate with the KC Anti-Violence project, breaks down the terminology for you in 90 seconds.

After years of having to seek care elsewhere, transgender students looking to start hormone therapy can now begin the process at the University of Kansas’ student health center.

A collaboration between Watkins Health Services and the university’s counseling and psychological department, combined with support from student government leaders, prompted the university to expand the services it offers trans students at the Lawrence campus.

Until now, transgender students seeking health care — particularly services related to transitioning physically — had limited options.

They could have medications filled at the student health center, but they would have to go off campus for the medical evaluations and lab work required to get the process started.

“We didn’t do intakes,” said Doug Dechairo, director for Watkins Health Services. “We weren’t a one-stop shop.”

The expanded program means that Watkins staff can offer students everything they need to start and continue hormone therapy. And when Counseling and Psychological Services professionals meet with students — counseling is a required component of hormone therapy — they can refer them one floor below for medical care.

The KU student health insurance plan covers these services as long as they are performed at Watkins, Dechairo said.

Dechairo said both Watkins and counseling staff had been planning to provide more comprehensive care for transgender students for more than a year.

“The whole trans community has come out and become a lot more vocal and visible,” Dechairo said. “Part of equity is to provide service for all. This was an unmet population that we were not providing full service to.”

These efforts were embraced by the Student Senate, which was already rolling out initiatives to make campus more inclusive for LGBTQ people, such as expanding efforts to give students access to an HIV prevention drug and covering the cost for transgender students to get new IDs to reflect their gender identity.

Senate President Noah Ries said he had learned that some students looking to start hormone therapy were forced to take buses and find rides to Kansas City for doctors’ appointments just so they could bring back referrals to KU. He said Dechairo approached student leaders about expanding trans care as students were discussing ways to better support transgender students.

“It was almost serendipitous,” Ries said. “Perfect timing.”

The challenge now, he said, is making sure students know these services are there.

“Because the service is so new, I’ve been spending most of my time making sure students are aware of it,” Ries said.

Katy Bergen covers Johnson County for The Kansas City Star. She is a graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism.

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