Transforming Health, From Serbia to Sacramento

Mar 06, 2013 | Updated Feb 02, 2016

Many of us already know the appalling examples of trans people being denied medical care. There's the story of Roberts Eads, a trans man who was the subject of the film Southern Comfort. He developed ovarian cancer and went to doctor after doctor who refused him treatment because they worried that his presence would harm their practices. Then there's the story of Tanya Hunter, a trans woman who was the victim of a car accident. As she lay bleeding on the street, the first responder only mocked her. She died not long afterwards, when even the ER doctor refused to help.

These stories are only the tip of the iceberg. Trans scholar Susan Stryker argues that many people have trouble seeing the humanity in another person if they can't recognize that person's gender. Across the world, trans people face this kind of misunderstanding, and many suffer blatant discrimination that prevents them from accessing medical care and pushes them into lowers standards of health.

To take a few examples: In a comprehensive European survey, 80 percent of respondents who had sought transition reported having been denied state coverage, and a third reported that they had not received adequate general health care when requested. In South Africa, abusive behavior by providers has prevented trans patients from receiving and seeking HIV testing and treatment. In the United States, many trans people put off visits to the doctor because of discrimination in treatment, which has an important impact on preventive care and long-term health. And they report having been harassed in medical settings.

But a new report by Open Society Foundations, "Transforming Health," profiles the varied and innovative ways that trans communities from across the world are standing up, organizing and advocating for better standards of health.

In Moldova, an advocacy group partnered with the Ministry of Health to help trans people change their gender on official documents. This makes it easier for trans people to obtain coverage from health insurance providers. In an innovative project in Delhi, trans sex workers receive medical consultations, particularly around gender transition, by streaming video from an American practitioner based in New York. She guides care and hormone levels, prescribes adjustments and connects patients to local suppliers and practitioners. In Bangladesh, a trans group established its own community health center to provide services like HIV and AIDS testing and treatment. And in New Mexico, a trans speakers bureau combats stereotyping by traveling across the state talking to medical providers, law enforcement and students about the lives and experiences of trans people.

These are only a few of the inspiring projects featured in "Transforming Health." While they may work within very different communities and focus on different health needs, they are all united in addressing the common challenge that Susan Stryker identified: They seek recognition of their humanity.

With continued organization and innovation from groups like these, trans communities from Serbia to Sacramento will develop the kinds of supportive and accepting environments that keep them safe and healthy.

Follow Open Society Foundations' Public Health Program at and