Northwell Health opens Long Island’s 1st transgender health care center

Transgender people often face judgment in seeking health care.

ByDr. Danielle Weitzer and Sony Salzman
July 2, 2020, 5:05 AM

Despite growing mainstream recognition in popular culture and media, transgender people in the United States still face widespread discrimination in the doctor's office, with a 2015 survey finding that over one-third have been harassed or refused medical care.

In the pursuit of living authentically, transgender people -- those whose sense of gender identity does not match the sex they were assigned at birth -- often seek medical care that recognizes their discomfort and helps them embark on transition.

In recent years, more medical centers specifically focusing on transgender patients have cropped up across the country. The most recent among them is Northwell Health's Center for Transgender Care, a first-of-its-kind medical center in Long Island, which opened Monday.

"Opening allows us to provide outstanding health care to transgender, gender nonconforming and nonbinary individuals," medical director Dr. David Rosenthal said at a press conference. "The center is highly committed to individual personal health and providing overall equity in health care."

The center forms a collaboration of over 40 doctors in various specialties, including plastic surgery, mental health, endocrinology, internal medicine, primary care and fertility, among many others.

"Sometimes people do not come for transitional issues," said Rosenthal. "Transgender people deserve the same type of health care that we see with every other person in health care."

As such, the center also treats regular medical problems such as diabetes and high blood pressure. The center has already treated many transgender patients successfully.

Byron Nicholas, who is currently being treated at the center, said that being able to seek inclusive medical care near his home has been transformative. From the start, Nicholas has lived a life of feeling trapped in his body.

"My mother questioned me about my sexual orientation, my sexual gender, my preference," Nicholas said at a press conference. "She knew deep inside that I wanted to be a male, but I kept away from revealing the whole truth from her for years."

Protestors march with chants, flags, sign and white clothing in support of Black Trans Lives Matter on June 14, 2020, in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.
Michael Noble Jr./Getty Images

Once he joined the military, it became especially difficult to hide his gender identity under the policy of "don't ask, don't tell."

"From birth to the military, I was still living this double life," he said.

After the military, he moved to Long Island -- where he finally felt ready to pursue his transition. But medical centers catering to transgender patients tended to be clustered in major metropolitan areas rather than suburban areas, so Nicholas found himself commuting long distances to seek medical care.

"Prior to the center opening, there was no other center for us to go to, we had to travel to and from Manhattan," he said.

Now, Northwell Health's Center for Transgender Care allows him to seek treatment closer to home.

"I appreciated not having to take the long drive to the city," he said. "I love coming here where you have everything over one roof."

Nicholas added that the center is very personal in delivering health care and also provides education for families of LGBTQ people.

"There are transgender reps that check in with you daily or weekly or just to check in with you in general to make sure everything is going well," he said.

Rosenthal said that this is one of the key components in the evolution of the center: "These are individuals that take care of our patients, connect and work with them."

A mural on a Northwell Healthcare building features first responders and healthcare workers who are on the frontlines during the COVID-19 pandemic on May 05, 2020 in New Hyde Park, New York.
Al Bello/Getty Images

"Regardless of your age, make sure you can talk to family and other people, tell your story and have a support system. Transitioning does not have a beginning, middle and end -- it's a journey. The key thing is that we are here to support people through that journey," Rosenthal said.

The center focuses on allowing its patients to safely embark on a journey toward living a better life by becoming their authentic self without bias, judgment or discrimination.

For Nicholas, this part was crucial.

"You need to be true to yourself," he said. "It does not matter how people will view you, people will view you no matter who and what you are. You want to go somewhere where you feel accepted."

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