Activist Willy Wilkenson Talks Queer and Trans Healthcare at USF

Queer and trans health is not discussed enough, activist Willy Wilkinson argues. PHOTO BY ELISE EMARD/SF FOGHORN

Last Thursday, nursing students discussed how they would go about working with queer patients at an event put on by student club “Queer Safety and Education for Nurses” (QSEN). The club is made up of queer nursing students who came together in July when they, “Saw a lack of understanding of queer health or trans health in general” media and publicity chair Loi Vo said. To help educate their cohort, the club invited queer healthcare advocate and veteran trans-rights activist Willy Wilkinson to talk about queerness in the healthcare field and working with queer and transgender patients.

Wilkinson talked about Kyler Prescott a 14-year-old transgender boy who committed suicide in 2015 after being misgendered by medical professionals while seeking care for mental health concerns. His case was recognized this year under Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, which “prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, disability, or sex (including pregnancy, sexual orientation, gender identity, and sex characteristics), in covered health programs or activities.”

The gender identity of transgender children and their right to pursue medical transition and gender-affirming care has been a subject of political debate for several years. Arkansas passed state legislature in 2021 banning gender-affirming care, such as puberty blockers, for transgender minors. The Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law reported that “More than 58,000 transgender youth and young adults across 15 states are in jeopardy of losing access to gender-affirming care” in March. 

Wilkinson said that a key to health and well-being for transgender children is that they be gendered according to their identity. “Trans kids know who they are and what they want,” he said.

Diana Seelinger, a first-year biology student, said the recent push to ban gender-affirming care is “Scary as hell,” and a sign of the politicalization of trans people. “Trans people are drummed up as some incredible worry because of the fact that somebody could transgress and change their status [assigned to them at birth]” said Seelinger.

Wilkinson said that, of transgender and gender-expansive students within the K-12 age range, “78% have experienced harassment, 35% experienced physical assault, and 12% experienced sexual violence.” 

In an interview with the Foghorn, Wilkinson said, “The opposition does not realize that trans-care is medically necessary and just how devastating it is to deny youth healthcare. We’ve seen suicidal ideation, suicidal attempts, and suicidal completion in response to these measures and these different states where young people are being denied care.” 

Speaking to his own experience as a transgender person, Wilkinson said, “Because we have more visibility, we’re also experiencing a different level of bias, harassment, and exclusion from opportunity.”

To close the event, the crowd was split into three groups and given a case study pertaining to Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) data collection, which healthcare providers use to provide trauma-informed and affirming care to patients that are queer. The case study asked students to discuss what policies health institutions need to implement to ensure gender affirming care, and how to know if a provider’s question is relevant to care or may be unnecessarily probing. 

Hanley Tran, a fourth-year nursing student, said “The problem with trans healthcare for many providers is there’s this level of discomfort, there’s this level of fear, of ‘I don’t know what to say, I don’t know how to respond, I’m going to say the wrong thing’, right? It’s a learning process.”

Ashley Tam, the secretary for QSEN, said that she noticed homophobia in her nursing cohort. “The nursing school has been around for a long time, but there hasn’t been a lot of strides toward making a more equitable and equal healthcare system,” she said. 

Seelinger said, “When I’m [receiving care], I’m a person, and I don’t like people tiptoeing around me. Most of what that comes down to is just being familiar enough with queer people, trans and sexual minorities.”

“I think that by really centering our attention towards improving healthcare, and improving the quality of care towards these individuals who are often left behind, it ends up improving healthcare and outcomes for everybody,” Tam said. “No matter who this person is, no matter how they identify, that is how healthcare should be.”

Nia Ratliff is a third-year design major and deputy writer for the Foghorn. They can be contacted at mnratliff@dons.usfca.edu 

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  • Nia Ratliff

    Nia Ratliff is a junior design major and a deputy writer for the Foghorn. They can be reached at mnratliff@dons.usfca.edu

    mnratliff@dons.usfca.edu

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