For people seeking transgender health services in Peoria, Illinois, chances are the first person they’ll talk to is Dana Garber. Garber is the transgender hormone intake coordinator at the Peoria Planned Parenthood, the only clinic in the area that offers hormone-replacement therapy for people seeking gender transition.
During a recent shift at the clinic, wearing a blue sunflower-print dress and a hot pink manicure, Garber explained that she began her own transition just a few years ago, at the age of 55. Now she helps other people work through the process.“It makes me feel good,” she said. “I like to help people. I like to make things easier than it was for me.”A year ago, this Planned Parenthood was the first place to start offering hormone replacement therapy in Peoria. When Garber transitioned, she had to drive three hours to Chicago for her appointments. Now Garber said, she’s seeing her own patients travel from neighboring states.“When you get a surrounding state like Missouri, they have nowhere to go,” she said.It’s still rare to find clinics outside of major cities that offer transition-related medical care. But Planned Parenthood has started offering these services at several locations in Central Illinois. The organization now offers transgender services in 16 states.
Last year a group called the Peoria Transgender Society — which works to expand health care services for trans and gender nonconforming individuals — invited area hospitals and providers to a health care summit and told them about the need for transgender health services.Planned Parenthood was the only one to show up, and respond to the need, said Kristen Haley, co-founder of the Peoria Transgender Society. She said she hopes the other health care providers follow Planned Parenthood’s example.“There’s such a growing need for all services, for all age groups, from young children to someone my age, and older,” she said. “We have the same health care needs as everybody else, plus specific needs for transgender issues.”Haley said she appreciates that Planned Parenthood has narrowed the health care gaps for transgender people in rural and suburban areas. As a Catholic, she initially felt conflicted about the organization.“I’m pro-life. But I can’t stand in a position to judge people for the decisions they make,” she said. “I appreciate that they are the only ones who have stepped up to help us, instead of judging us.