Sask. pilot project helping trans, gender diverse people access health-care needs

·3 min read
The flag representing the transgender community consists of two light blue strips, two pink strips, and one white stripe in the centre. A new pilot project in Saskatchewan helps people who identify as transgender or gender diverse navigate health services. (Sarah Petz/CBC - image credit)
The flag representing the transgender community consists of two light blue strips, two pink strips, and one white stripe in the centre. A new pilot project in Saskatchewan helps people who identify as transgender or gender diverse navigate health services. (Sarah Petz/CBC - image credit)

Accessing even basic health care can be difficult for many transgender and gender diverse people in Saskatchewan — but a pilot project is hoping to change that.

The TRANS Health Navigator project helps people who identify as transgender or gender diverse navigate health services.

That can include help with things like finding transgender-friendly doctors, setting up appointments, or getting referrals and starting hormones.

The project also aims to offer help finding support groups, assistance with name changes, changing gender markers and finding gender-affirming products.

"The need is huge," said Ken Mullock, one of two health navigators for the project. On top of helping transgender and gender diverse people access health-care services, he also works with health-care providers and offers education.

"Historically, trans people are underserved when it comes to health care. There's limited education that providers get about addressing the needs of the population. There's limited health research on what our needs are."

The navigator pilot is part of the TRANS (Trans Research and Navigation Saskatchewan) Project being conducted at the University of Saskatchewan — a collaborative research project with the Saskatchewan Trans Health Coalition and the community-based organizations URPride and OutSaskatoon.

'It's really discouraging'

Many transgender people also face systemic discrimination and oppression in the health-care system, Mullock said, which leads to a higher rate of mental health challenges and chronic disease because people may avoid getting care or don't have access to competent care.

He said he has first-hand experience with some of the challenges may transgender people face.

Mullock previously relied on word of mouth to learn about things like accessing hormones and gender-affirming surgeries, but there was no clear direction or guidance.

"It's really discouraging," he said.

"You don't have your health-care needs met and you just feel very lost and you kind of give up, too."

The lack of guidance prevents some people from coming out as transgender because they're afraid of not having the support or care they need, Mullock said. Many of his clients have asked for help from their doctor, to no avail.

He said many transgender people either don't feel supported by their doctor when they ask for help, or their doctor doesn't have the education or knowledge to provide the necessary care.

As a result, many people end up on a long wait list to see a specialist.

"All the weight is on their shoulders," he said.

Helping hundreds of transgender people

Mullock said since the project started in April, it has been able to help hundreds of transgender people meet their health-care needs.

"We have people telling us every day how much we change their life and just made them feel so much more excited to just be able to live their lives."

He said parents of transgender kids have also reached out to them for help.

The TRANS Health Navigator pilot runs until April, but Mullock hopes it becomes a long-term program.

"It would just mean that trans people in Saskatchewan just get to live healthier lives," he said.

"In order for trans and gender diverse people to thrive as their true selves, they need to have safe and accessible health care, just like everyone else."

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