Friday, November 20, 2009

Fan Free Clinic's Transgender services

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by Brad Kutner

Diego Basedo is a 22-year-old chef in Richmond, Virginia. With help from a community clinic, he has spent the last 9 months transitioning from a woman to a man. He was scared at first, but realized, “there’s no use in doing anything (if I was scared). I might as well buy a white dress, marry a rich man and pop out a lot of kids.”

Basedo, confident in his choice, entered the doors of the Fan Free Clinic a little less than a year ago.

Modeled after free clinic systems created in San Francisco, it was the first free clinic in the Virginia, when it started in the historic Fan District in 1968. In the 1970’s, the FFC focused on woman’s health and the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases. When the HIV/AIDS epidemic broke out in the 1980s, the FFC was Virginia’s first outreach program to specifically handle the issue.
It is from the HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention that the transgender clinic got its start.

According to the 2008 Comprehensive HIV Prevention Plan released by the Virginia HIV Planning Committee, transgender people are considered a priority for HIV infection. The Fan Free Transgender Clinic provides support, both emotional and medical, to Richmond’s uninsured trans-population. Reed Bohn, a transgender outreach specialist, said 16 percent of the Fan Free Transgender Clinic population is HIV positive.

Some of the funding for the Transgender Clinic are from Virginia Department of Health HIV/AIDS prevention funds, though Bohn says the clinic has many different sources of income. Some of the costs are absorbed by the rest of the FFC. Grants and donations also make up a large portion of the Transgender Clinic’s purse.

Bohn volunteered at the Transgender Clinic for about 3 years before joining the staff in May of this year. He said the clinic’s main goals are providing primary care to transgender individuals in a culturally sensitive manner, HIV prevention through group discussion and treatment, and supporting the free HIV testing held at the clinic. He said the transgender population is “usually medically underserved, extremely to be honest with you.” He joined the clinic to help change that.

The clinic provides prescriptions for hormone treatments, and has a nurse practitioner on staff to administer testosterone shots on a bi-monthly basis. There is no drug distribution or surgical work done on site. Individuals receiving treatment can meet Tuesday nights to receive both support in a group environment and hormone treatments.
Jason, a female to male transgender who not to be identified, said, “The clinic is one of the best things to happen to the trans community here in Richmond because it provides a safe and professional environment to go to.”

Melissa Paige, a male to female transgender, is president of the James River Transgender Society, a support group for trans-folks in the Richmond area. She boasts between 30 and 40 members who come regularly to meetings, and over 100 members active in the online discussion board. Paige started her transition through the FFC, but once she got insurance, she switched to an endocrinologist. “The services at the Fan Free Trans Clinic are just amazing. They provide a service which would be impossible to do with out insurance.”

Paige says the JRTS works closely with the Fan Free Transgender Clinic. When people come to JRTS meetings, curious about making the transition, she gives them a card from the FFC, and when a patient begins treatment at the FFC, they receive information about JRTS meetings.

Basedo started his treatments at the FFC and got his shots their until his roommate, a nurse, could administer them at home.

He’s still in the throws of his transition and speaks of the benefits of the changes.
“I had to quit smoking and drinking, because the hormones are filtered through your liver like everything else, but I feel a lot more healthy. The ‘negative’ effects are bringing a positive lifestyle.”

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