Trans Health Care at RIT: What's The Status?
by Christopher Wesley Barilla | published Mar. 1st, 2018
On Feb. 8, 2018 members of OUTspoken and the International Socialist Organization came together at an open forum to speak about the status of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) at RIT. The forum gave a chance for attendants to discuss what has occurred in the past eight months since Dr. Annamarie Kontor was fired from the Student Health Center for providing HRT to transgender students on campus.
At the forum, many students expressed confusion at the decision to terminate Dr. Kontor last May. This came as a surprise to many students because RIT is generally viewed as a LGBTQIA-friendly campus.
"My impression was that this was a queer campus. [When I first came here] I feel like I could not walk around without running into another queer group," said Zakary Skinner,
Skinner also noted that RIT hosted the Northeast Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Conference.
"I find it completely baffling that this is happening here because it completely bucks the trend of other institutions," said C.J. Miller, a clinical technician at the University of Rochester Medical Center. "Many institutions like the University of Rochester are pushing for it to be part of their queer-friendly image to better recruit."
Taryn Brennan, president of OUTspoken, gave an update of how student organizations have been advocating for more transgender inclusive health care at RIT. After Dr. Kontor was fired, OUTspoken and Student Government worked together to assess what options transgender students had for receiving HRT off-campus.
"We did hit some roadblocks. it was difficult to be heard sometimes being just a student organization on campus," said Brennan.
Brennan and OUTspoken were helped by Erin Halligan-Avery, director of Health Promotion.
"Erin Halligan-Avery has been working with me and reaching out to those organizations, " said Brennan. "There is also a new medical director, Lindsay Phillips, who we are working with closely to see what options we have to actually get our students what they need on this campus."
Lindsay Phillips was hired in January 2018 as medical director of Student Health. "I have really been charged by the university and this division to figure out what the options [for HRT] are," said Phillips.
Phillips says that any effort to bring more trans health care to RIT is still in a discovery phase.
Transgender Students on Campus
Henry Trettenbach, a transgender student and second year Fine Arts major expressed frustration at how RIT handled the firing of Dr. Kontor.
"I was not directly contacted by the Student Health Center with help to find other places until four months after [Dr. Kontor was fired]," he said. "When the case worker from the Student Health Center finally reached out to me, it had been a few days after I had been openly complaining about the lack of communication with the Student Health Center."
Recently the state Division of Human Rights issued a decision in Favor of Dr. Kontor's claim that she was discriminated against by RIT. The justification from the RIT administration on Dr. Kontor's firing was that Dr. Kontor did not follow Student Health Center policy and that she ignored warnings to stop providing hormone replacement therapy to students on campus. However, the state Division of Human Rights decision contradicted this: "Investigation revealed that (RIT) has no policy regarding hormone therapy for transgender students and there is no documentation to establish that (Kontor) was ever told to stop prescribing hormone therapy by a supervisor."
Ryan Roy, a transgender student and second year American Sign Language Interpreting major, would like RIT to be more upfront about what has happened.
"I want RIT to stop hiding this. So they have done everything they can possibly to keep this under the radar. They do not want people to know this is going on," he said.
Roy and Trettenbach want RIT to bring back HRT to campus. While they have been able to receive care from Trillium Health in Rochester, going off campus comes with inconveniences. The biggest inconvenience comes with the distance from campus.
"It's definitely a big problem trying to get downtown for an appointment when you have an health center on campus," said Roy.
Roy does not have a car and relies on his boyfriend to get to Trillium appointments. "If I took the bus I would have to schedule hours in advance," said Roy.
Beyond bringing HRT back on campus, Trettenbach also wanted an apology from RIT.
Phillips has been visiting the Q center on campus and has talked with transgender students. "People let me know that trans health was really important at RIT," said Phillips. "It has been clear to me that there has been a lot of emotion and hurt ... I am not a part of what has happened before, but I would like to be a part of how we move forward."
In a recent .7 President David Munson commented on trans health care:
"I think, in the case of transgender students and the students who are questioning, there are a lot of issues beyond just the chemical/medical issues. And I think that any sort of care has to be managed that includes a lot of counseling and other things. In our case, whether we are talking about [HRT] or many other types of care, I think the goal of our Student Health Center is to offer our students the best care. And if we feel that we might not provide the best care, we are going to want to refer those students to other places... this is an area of active study right now for us to decide whether we can provide the best care or not...The number of students we are talking about is exceedingly small, so one shouldn't be thinking that we are talking about any sort of population here. We are talking about a extremely small number of individuals who have been reached out to on an individual basis."