CHARLESTON, W.Va. – West Virginia medical care providers will receive training on how to better serve the needs of the transgender community, and a statewide trans-friendly health care guide will be created, as part of a new effort by Fairness West Virginia.

The Transgender Health Initiative will also confidentially survey trans West Virginians to gauge their experiences receiving medical and mental health care in the state.

“Right now, West Virginia is a trans-inclusive health care desert,” said Andrew Schneider, Fairness WV executive director. “Anecdotally, we hear all the time from folks who forgo medical care or leave the state to receive it because they have either experienced discrimination here or are worried that they will.

“We’re not necessarily even talking about trans-related care like access to hormone therapy or gender-affirming surgery. We hear stories of going to a doctor for something like a foot injury, but upon the medical staff learning the patient is transgender, they subject them to an invasive and completely unnecessary genital exam.

“It’s that bad in some places.”

Fairness also launched a survey this week on its website. Any trans-identifying person in West Virginia is invited to fill out the brief survey, which will ask them to rate medical care in the state, whether they have skipped a doctor’s visit due to fear of discrimination, or whether they have sought medical care out of state because of such fears. As an incentive, those who take the survey will be entered for a chance to win a gift card.

By year’s end, Fairness will publish a statewide guide of medical providers who are trained in competently handling transgender patients’ needs. The guide will be periodically updated as more clinics receive training.

“Once our first trans-inclusive medical guide is published in the fall, we will ask the survey respondents to return and take a similar survey, to see whether their perceptions or sense of safety has changed at all as a result of the guide,” Schneider said.

Fairness already has trained staff at several area clinics. Partners on the Transgender Health Initiative include: the West Virginia State Medical Association, West Virginia Psychological Association, West Virginia School Counselors Association, the West Virginia Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, and others.

Fairness West Virginia field organizer Natasha Stone, who is conducting the training, said there are many small things that clinics can do to be more inclusive and inviting. For example, visual cues like a trans-friendly sticker on the front door, or bracelets worn by front office staff can quietly communicate that the clinic is a safe place, she said.

“In some ways, the front office staff have a bigger role to play than the doctors, because they are the first person the patient interacts with, the person who sets the tone for the rest of the visit,” she said.

The West Virginia Transgender Health Initiative is funded in part through a grant provided by The Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation and the generous supporters of Fairness West Virginia. To make a contribution, please visit www.fairnesswv.org/donate.

Fairness West Virginia is the statewide LGBTQ civil rights organization. Fairness West Virginia Institute is a registered 501(c)(3) dedicated to educating the public about the state’s LGBTQ population.

To inquire about LGBTQ awareness training through Fairness, contact us at natasha@fairnesswv.org or 681-265-9064.