Published in the Fall 2012 issue • In web :: Features
Sexual healthcare for youth needs a revamp
Comprehensive sexual health services are our right, but LGBT2QI youth face numerous obstacles.
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This is where sexual health clinics come in. One of the first to open in Canada was Planned Parenthood Toronto (PPT), founded in 1961. Unlike a gloomy hospital setting or doctor’s office, PPT’s waiting room has a welcoming vibe. Mounted high on the wall is a big-screen television airing MuchMusic videos. There’s a computer with internet access. Information pamphlets and youth-centric magazines abound. Sexual health awareness posters cover the front of the receptionist desk. “People come into the waiting room and they feel comfortable,” says Sarah Hobbs-Blyth, the Executive Director of PPT. “It’s youth positive; they know they can hang out. It’s not a traditional medical environment. It’s a non-judgmental atmosphere.”
In Toronto, we are fortunate enough to have numerous clinics like PPT that provide and promote sexual health related services, products, and procedures, many of which are covered by OHIP. These include birth control counseling, discounted contraception pills, free condoms, pregnancy testing and STI testing. These clinics are unique because they operate on a sex-positive and LGBTQ2I-positive premise. They are meant to provide a safe, inclusive, and non-judgmental space for young people to address their sexual health concerns.
But from the perspective of trans youth, there’s room for improvement, within both sexual health clinics and the health care system more broadly.
I met Morgan at The 519 Community Centre in Toronto, where she facilitates various trans-specific programs. She reminisces that her friend Sholma was “a fabulous genderqueer person.” As an epileptic, Sholma would often require emergency room visits. On multiple occasions, the nurses and doctors would openly make fun of his appearance. One night, in 2009, he had a serious seizure. When he came to, he decided to not go back to the hospital. “He didn’t want to be pointed at again and made to feel like a freak.” Later that night, a follow-up seizure ultimately took his life. “If he had gone to the hospital, he would not have died,” Morgan laments. “But he didn’t feel safe to go there.”
Morgan explains that although this event occurred in Michigan, the situation for trans folks in Canada is equally bleak. “Most trans people, myself included – every friend I have, every program participant who comes [to The 519] – we’ve all experienced health-care related discrimination at one point or another in our lives.” Family doctors can be as complicit in this malpractice as hospitals. “More often than not, they will claim ignorance of the subject [transsexuality] and refer you to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, which runs a gender-identity clinic,” says Morgan. “Most of the time, they’ll leave you on your own to figure out where to go next.”