Two years after Yale Health extended full coverage of gender-affirmation surgery to students enrolled in the Yale Health Plan as part of a more comprehensive transgender health care package, students and administrators alike have continued to push for increased awareness of both the transgender community at Yale and the resources available to meet its needs. This semester, the Office of LGBTQ Resources introduced a new resource called TransWise that provides support and information for students navigating a gender transition.
The gender-affirmation services currently covered by Yale Health’s specialty insurance plan includes counseling, hormone therapy and specific surgical procedures, according to the Yale Health Student Handbook. Surgery, which is done to change individuals’ physical appearance, does not actually take place on Yale’s campus; rather, the University refers students to specialists. While transgender students have praised Yale Health’s specialty insurance coverage, they said more can still be done to raise awareness of the options available within the LGBTQ community — a goal that may be achieved through initiatives like TransWise. Students and administrators also emphasized that while the insurance coverage is valuable, non-medical processes like increasing communication within the transgender community are equally important to individuals seeking to affirm their gender.
A Yale College student currently undergoing hormone therapy, who asked to remain anonymous because they are genderqueer, told the News that Yale Health follows the World Professional Association for Transgender Health guidelines in its transgender health care package. Accordingly, individuals seeking gender affirmation — or sex reassignment, as it is called in the Student Handbook — are first required to attend several sessions at Yale Health’s Mental Health & Counseling division before they are referred to an endocrinologist who can administer hormone therapy. The particular hormones the anonymous student is taking cost $40 a month without subsidy, they said, but with Yale Health specialty coverage, they only need to provide a monthly payment of $10.
“There is a general requirement to go through hormone therapy for a couple months before you can request to have a surgery,” the student said. “The idea is to make sure that you are ready before you undergo surgery, which is pretty much irreversible.”
The student said they appreciated that these services are covered by insurance and readily available at Yale.
Two students who identify as transgender said they only heard about Yale Health’s coverage of transgender services through word of mouth, not through any official University communications. While they did not see a need to publicize transgender services to the wider student body, as the information only concerns a small percentage of the Yale community, they agreed that more communication with the transgender community would be valuable.
“I didn’t hear about this from official resources or the school, which is a problem,” said Izzy Amend ’17, who identifies as transgender. “Yale has the capacity to help transgender students, but it needs to advertise itself better.”
Still, students and administrators cautioned against framing the issue entirely around the medical and surgical concerns of being transgender. Instead, they said they hope Yale will go beyond providing coverage for transgender health care and address larger, less conspicuous problems facing the trans community at Yale, such as a lack of sensitivity from professors surrounding gender pronouns used in class. Many of these subtler struggles are mostly invisible, the anonymous student undergoing hormone therapy said.
The University is in the midst of addressing some of these issues, with the TransWise initiative starting this fall, coordinated by Seth Wallace, a psychology research assistant at Yale.
“We’re very proud to be able to offer not only a space to collect all resources but also a network of people who know how to navigate [the network] to support people here,” Wallace said. “It’s really an essential part of life and wellbeing [for the trans community].”
Maria Trumpler GRD ’92, director of the Office of LGBTQ Resources, said her office is also currently making progress on other initiatives such as increasing the number of gender-neutral bathrooms within Yale buildings and working with Yale’s software systems to ensure that more online outputs will display an individual’s preferred name, rather than their legal name. It is already possible to change a name through filling out a form that can be found on the University Registrar’s website, but many Internet outlets do not display the updated name.
Still, many serious issues continue to challenge the trans and larger LGBTQ community at Yale.
In recently released survey results from the Association of American Universities, 28.4 percent of Yale undergraduates who identified as “other gender” — not male or female — reported that they had experienced nonconsensual penetration or sexual touching involving physical force or incapacitation. This was higher than the percentage reported by undergraduate female or male respondents.
Trumpler said her office is investigating the causes behind the high numbers. She added that other universities that participated in the survey reported similarly disconcerting figures for their “other gender” communities.
“Assault is about power, and it targets marginalized communities,” Trumpler said. “Once women and trans students aren’t perceived as marginal, the numbers will go down.”