Care, Understanding, Agreement: In Search of a Way Forward in Sexual and Gender Minority Health
Sexual and gender minorities who struggle to get basic health care also face life-threatening knowledge gaps – even if they have a doctor.
“We have people fighting for their lives, fighting for access to health care, fighting to be seen, and we realize that we don’t even understand what lab values a doctor is supposed to refer to. diabetes screenings, or for medications for transgender and other gender-diverse patients,” said Professor Kate Whetten.
Whetten, a population health scientist at Duke, is among the organizers of a two-day symposium designed in part to identify research needed for better-informed medical care and policy for these underserved communities.
The event, which takes place online March 21-22, is hosted by the Duke Sexual And Gender Minority Health Program, of which Whetten is co-director with Professor Sara LeGrand and Professor Sarah “Sadie” Wilson. Topics include the interactions between race, aging, and neurodivergence in gender and sexual minority health care, health, and well-being.
The list of speakers is headed by Admiral Rachel Levine, a pediatrician and – as US undersecretary of health – the first openly transgender holder of a position requiring Senate confirmation. The list also includes several doctors, researchers and activists from across sexual and gender identity spectra – many of whom fundamentally disagree on the way forward.
“Even within communities that support transgender and gender diverse people, there is incredible disagreement about what we should be doing,” Whetten said.
“We’re creating a space where people who have quite different beliefs can come together and air their differences, why they have them, and what would convince them to believe differently.”
One of the thorniest issues is whether too many teens are trying to transition, and how athletes of various genders can participate fairly in sports historically divided along traditional gender binary lines.
For sports participation, “We’re going to ask what biologically leveling the playing field would really look like and whether being transgender has any place in that discussion,” Whetten said. “For adolescent transitions, we’re going to ask ourselves what we need to learn and look for in order to be sure that the best possible care is provided.”
The extent of the disagreements is such that calling the event was difficult.
“People have been trying to do this kind of conference for the last two years and haven’t been able to do it,” Whetten said. “I was told we couldn’t do it, because people weren’t sitting in the same room. And I felt really confident that we could, in part because my home base is at the Sanford School of Public Policy, where we’re really good at having tough discussions.
The event is open to the public. For more information and to register, click here. The inaugural Pauli Murray Awards for Sexual and Gender Diversity will be presented at the symposium by Rosita Stevens-Holsey. The awards, created in partnership with the Pauli Murray Center and Family, will go to recipients “who embody the traits of the Durham legend, who will keep their tireless spirit alive and who, through their work, make the world a place in which Pauli Murray would have thrived today,” Whetten said. “We will also be awarding the first Promising SGM Researcher Award.”
The Duke Sexual And Gender Minority Health Program was launched in 2020. Its work includes an effort by Duke to create the first prospective national registry of transgender and gender-diverse patients in the United States, which will provide the clinical data needed to answer questions on the risks and benefits of gender-affirming hormonal and surgical interventions. Duke also plans to open an additional clinic to combine gender-related services.
“We want to become the training center for, at a minimum, academic institutions and hospitals in the South and the Global South,” Whetten said. “We can be the place where we can have these difficult policy and care discussions.”