Kendall Roark is a researcher for a community effort to assess the health-care and social-service needs of transsexuals and members of the "gender-diverse" community. Researchers have anonymously interviewed roughly 70 subjects about the systemic barriers they've encountered, as well as the strategies they've used to get around them. They'd like to reach a total of 100 by sometime in August. To participate in the study, or for more information on how you can help interpret the results (the community is invited to give input at a future forum), contact Roark at 623-0018 or kroark@temple.edu, or study co-author Alison Davison at 406-9220.

Tell me about the needs assessment.

It's part of an internship I'm working on with the Southern Arizona Gender Alliance. ... SAGA merged with Wingspan last fall, and before they had merged, there was a SAGA board of community members. My understanding, because I wasn't here at the time, was that they wanted to undertake this project of having a community-needs assessment for the transgender and gender-diverse community in Southern Arizona.

I see.

So the idea was that it would just focus on health and social services within the community and also look at access and barriers to care (and) strategies that people use to get around those barriers: resources that are already in the community or individual ways of sort of surviving the system and getting what you need. (The idea was also to look) at getting people's input about the direction of organizations like SAGA and how they can best serve the community.

What do you mean when you say "gender-diverse"?

Typically, you might think that (SAGA) would focus on sort of the "T" in LGBT, right? So transgender, transsexual-identified people. But SAGA, as part of their mission, is trying to reach out to (the) alt-gendered ... world. ... It's kind of this wordplay. You can see this kind of progression with, like, "gender variant?" No, that doesn't quite work, because it sounds too much like someone who's not part of the norm, and that's not exactly what they're trying to get at. It's like this whole spectrum of identities that sort of, in an academic sense or political sense, fit under the umbrella of "transgender."

Let's talk about some preliminary findings.

Well, health care is a big issue. And finding local primary-care providers who are not only sensitive but also knowledgeable about transgender issues--health-care issues--is a struggle for a lot of people. Because of the lack of training that's available to health-care providers, the lack of experience, what happens is that people have to travel long distances or wait to get appointments with the few doctors who are knowledgeable.

What are some specific health issues that transgender people have?

Well, one thing we found is that, especially for people who identify on the female-to-male spectrum, there's (a problem) finding gynecological care, because, you know, some may identify as male, may present as male and may live their lives as male, but still may need gynecological services. And that can create a lot of difficulty and fear on the part of the individual, you know, because you have to enter a lot of times into a space that is set up for people who are female identifiers. ... Insurance, as well--that's another issue. A lot of insurance companies have exclusions for transgender health.

Like, specifically outlined in the policy?

Yes. So, that can be from, OK, we won't provide ... hormones, for example. ... Or some have had sex-reassignment, gender-reassignment surgery, confirmation surgery--however you want (to say that). Those are some of the more obvious exclusions. But it could end up being (that) you might have a health plan that covers counseling services, but it may have an exclusion so that you can't go and talk to someone about gender-related issues. ... So what we found is that a lot of people are spending money out of pocket, and it's a financial burden. There are limited resources. To access them, you have to have the money--if that's kind of the path you've chosen to take. That's one thing that we've found, and that's not a new thing. Other studies have done similar needs assessments and have found similar things.

Have you found anything unusual in Tucson, that perhaps differs from other cities?

Well, I think SAGA is unusual--having this organization that provides a lot of support services, referrals (and) information. Having a visible transgender community, you know, I think is different.

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