Students who are transgender and in the process of transitioning have a team of health professionals and advocates at USC to support them on their journey.

On the medical side, Patty Pinanong in USC Student Health ensures the dozen or so transitioning patients she sees each year are able to access the hormone therapy they seek without delay: “If you want them, you can get hormones the same day. We treat based on informed consent.”

Pinanong is part of a team devoted to trans care at USC. The team also includes Kegan Allee-Moawad, USC’s Title IX assistant director; Kelby Accardi-Harrison of the USC LGBTQ Resource Center; and Sarah Schreiber of USC Student Health’s counseling and mental health services department, who runs the gender spectrum group.

“I want to increase awareness of the [transgender health care] services available and that we’re sensitive to [transgender patient] needs,” said Pinanong, who helped build the trans care program in USC Student Health about five years ago in response to a group of student patients who sought hormone therapy on campus. “We’re being proactive about trauma-informed care, and we recognize that a lot of the patients coming through the door have gone through some trauma. With the trans community, that is amplified, and that’s where the support comes in. We’re not going to be a barrier and we’re not going to judge them.”


Why trans care is important at USC

Trans-inclusive care training extends to all staff in USC Student Health for good reason. If a front desk receptionist, for example, inadvertently called a trans patient by an incorrect pronoun or name while in the waiting room, “you would be basically outing them publicly,” Pinanong said.

Should a patient opt for gender reassignment surgery, the USC trans care team works to provide letters of recommendation, referrals to trans-affirming specialists at Keck Medicine of USC or in their provider network, and help navigating their insurance plans to access benefits.

“Surgery is part of a continuum, and people are ready at different times in their lives,” Pinanong said. Aetna, which administers the USC Student Health Plan, “supports the whole spectrum, and that’s a nice benefit for students. They’re often surprised by how encompassing the coverage is.”

Contrary to some outdated misconceptions, patients who decide to undergo gender-affirming surgery are highly prepared, and every detail of the process has usually been thoroughly considered.

Not all transgender people choose to transition medically. However, for those individuals who do decide it makes sense for them and their lives, the decision comes from a well-informed place, not based on the advice of their doctor.

“Most of the patients we see seeking gender reassignment know more about it than you do [as a medical care provider]. They have been waiting and doing researching on it for years,” Pinanong said. “Often, they have spent their whole lives thinking about it.”


Becoming a more trans-inclusive campus

Of course, the process of transitioning involves much more than gender-affirming medical care. There are numerous components to transitioning socially and legally, and Pinanong said that USC is moving towards becoming a more trans-inclusive campus through changes to policy and practice. “There’s a lot of movement towards recognizing that not everyone fits into a binary system,” she said, “and we support that.”

Accardi-Harrison noted that USC now accepts self-disclosed gender identity for its official student information system, in accordance with California state law.

As of January 2019, USC students can select preferred names and the correct pronouns to be used across the university, from USC ID cards to housing. Accardi-Harrison added, however, that the system still needs to be integrated with the classroom rosters used by faculty. In the interim, the Title IX Office can inform faculty of a student’s pronouns by student request.

While USC has taken progressive steps over the past few years, such as providing gender-inclusive housing and bathrooms, Accardi-Harrison noted that there are many more opportunities for the university to become more trans inclusive. Faculty and staff, for instance, would benefit from a required primer on inclusive pronouns, and the campus community as a whole would be improved through university-wide education on how to best support members of the trans and non-binary gender communities.

— Andrea Bennett