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Philly Facility Pioneers Gender ’Transition’ Surgery

by Andrew Clark

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday January 15, 2013

One of the more pressing and emotional topics in the fight for LGBT equality is health care and how the community's rights are violated due to this inequality. Hospital visitation rights, joint insurance capabilities and medical discriminatory policies affect LGBT people and their families at the most difficult and upsetting times of their lives.

In the transgender community, such inequities permeate every level of physical and mental health care. For a group of people who rely so heavily on the health care system to assist them in reaching the identity they feel is correct, transgender people rarely receive the treatment they need and, even more rarely, the respect and care they deserve.

Dr. Sherman Leis, a world-renowned surgeon specializing in transgender surgery and the founder of The Philadelphia Center for Transgender Surgery, has recently spoken out on this matter. Dr. Leis described how despite instating anti-discrimination policies, he has encountered many local hospitals not allowing their physicians to operate on transgender patients due to a lack of training and education in treating them.

"Most hospitals in the Delaware Valley do not give privileges to surgeons to perform transgender surgery," Leis told EDGE. "There is no clear reason why they do this and my thoughts are that they remain uneducated about transgender issues and, in fact, many are outright discriminatory in their practices even though their by-laws state they do not discriminate on the basis of race, religion, sexual orientation, or gender."

Leis also made a point of noting that certain health care environments are more prone to these discriminatory practices, saying that the Catholic hospital systems are least likely to provide the resources that transgender patients require. This is, of course, problematic in that health care levels should not change based on the hospital's affiliations.

Making matters worse is that even the hospitals with more inclusive policies are often little comfort for the community. Few insurance policies include coverage for transgender health care, and those are mostly in larger Fortune 500 companies, where employment levels of transgender staff are notoriously low. Despite the inclusion of transgender health care being a relatively inexpensive and significantly effective change in insurance plans to promote inclusion and equality, it is still an unheard of benefit.

"It is the most important and simple fix," Dr. Leis reiterated. "This change would include the medical and surgical care of the transgender patient. Currently, it is the responsibility of the individual or company purchasing health insurance to include transgender health services as part of their insurance package."

Equal to the risks of not having access to proper health care are the resulting mental health side effects, and self-administered medical work. Without supportive medical care, high rates of depression and suicide are common in the transgender community. With medical access and procedures being so closely associated with the mental health and well-being of this community, these high rates are logical and significantly dangerous.

"Although our focus is on transgender surgery and health, we also make available a wealth of experience and information for transmen and transwomen, as well as for the medical community in general."

Equally as significant are the astronomical costs that traveling internationally for transition surgery require, due to domestic health centers being unable to provide for the transgender community.

This comes, of course, at great personal cost and inconvenience for the transgender community, and is often performed by unqualified and badly trained surgeons and can result in complications and medical risk. With a high price tag on operations associated with transitioning, it is not uncommon for those without the means to seek out non-medically trained surgeons and other high-risk alternatives.

It is this grocery list of hurdles that the transgender community faces to get through essential surgery that has led Dr. Leis to create The Philadelphia Center for Transgender Surgery. He believes that simple fixes such as insurance inclusion, education and training within the medical field, as well as awareness campaigns to the general public are necessary to properly care for the transgender in our nation.

"One of the reasons I founded The Philadelphia Center For Transgender Surgery was to provide a complete resource for the transgender community, through the use of the Internet," Dr. Leis said in a recent press release for the Center. "This resource is accessible worldwide. Although our focus is on transgender surgery and health, we also make available a wealth of experience and information for transmen and transwomen, as well as for the medical community in general."

Along with his focus as providing this worldwide resource, the Center's staff is an exceptional mix of experienced physicians and experts in fields that benefit their patients. This includes surgeons, physicians, and make-up/styling artists that are made available to teach patients how best to tastefully and convincingly apply cosmetics during the transition period. With this mixture of services, the Center is well positioned to be an all-encompassing approach for transgender people to best address their unique medical needs.

"The chief goal of The Philadelphia Center for Transgender Surgery is to make available comprehensive medical and surgical care for transgender people," Dr. Leis explained. "Hopefully, the impact I believe we are having on the medical field is to not only make the care for transgender patients available at our own Center, but also to train other establishments' young surgeons to perform high quality transgender surgery, and to make available resources in multiple specialties for a more holistic level of care for transgender patients."

For more information on The Philadelphia Center for Transgender Surgery and the resources it provides, please visit