Transgender equality is fast becoming a catchphrase among civil rights supporters. But in Los Angeles, many transgender people still can't see a doctor in a way that is dignified and convenient.
Hurdles to healthcare are among the largest problems facing the transgender community nationwide. In Los Angeles and nationally, transgender women are disproportionately affected by HIV. Many doctors decline to treat transgender people or have little understanding of their specific healthcare needs.
Interacting with other patients can be difficult for transgender people as well. Amaya Perez-Brumer is a sociologist at Columbia University in New York who is studying transgender access to healthcare. She hears reports of transgender people being gawked at in healthcare provider waiting rooms, even having their photos snapped with cell phones.
Bamby Salcedo would like to see that change. Salcedo is founder and president of the TransLatina Coalition, an advocacy group that assists transgender immigrants. One of the coalition's goals is to help those they serve find healthcare.
Los Angeles has four clinics providing hormones and/or targeted healthcare for transgender people — Los Angeles LGBT Center, Children's Hospital Los Angeles, St. John's Well Child and Family Center, and BAART Programs. Wellness can also require counseling for those coping with issues unique to the transgender experience.
St. John's, in addition to healthcare, offers transgender people referrals to legal help for things like getting their names or gender markers changed. BAART, while primarily an addiction treatment program, also offers hormone replacement therapy.
Children's Hospital Los Angeles, where Salcedo as an HIV prevention services coordinator, provides a gamut of services to transgender youth, from medications to suppress puberty to HIV treatment.
"We have to go to different points to access different services and we obviously encounter discrimination," Salcedo said. "What is needed in L.A. County is a one-stop comprehensive health center where people could go and get holistic health care." Good mental health, physical health and overall wellness are critical to living a positive transgender life, Salcedo stressed.
Salcedo is also working to get the attention of local government. She approached Sheila Kuehl, former state lawmaker and candidate for Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, at a recent town hall meeting to promote the idea of a one-stop transgender health center in L.A.
According to Kuehl's campaign manager, the candidate is "strongly supportive" of the health center concept.
"Healthcare for individuals really is a human right," Salcedo said. "We need to really understand what they means. We trans people are human and we deserve comprehensive healthcare."