US: Trans Students Say On-Campus Hormone Replacement Therapy Makes Them Feel ‘Welcome and Respected’

As soon as he turned 18, old enough to determine his own health care, Henry Trettenbach began medically transitioning with hormone replacement therapy (HRT). He was able to continue the process without interruption after starting his freshman year at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), thanks to Dr. Annamaria Kontor: the staff physician at the university’s student health center, who was trained to prescribe and monitor gender-affirming hormones.

“I really liked her,” Trettenbach, now 20, told Rewire.News. “She was more thorough than my previous doctor. When I wasn’t feeling well, she even gave me a recipe for soup. She had a basic decency.”

Early last summer, however, Kontor contacted Trettenbach to say she could no longer treat him: She had been fired for providing HRT to transgender students.

“I was devastated,” Trettenbach recalled. “I had just been denied health care. I felt like I didn’t matter for a few days.”

Trettenbach’s initial hurt at being denied HRT turned to anger. “I need to fight [the policy]. It creates a hostile environment,” he said. “If you deny health care to trans students, it’s a way of saying we are less human or are invalid.” Trettenbach spoke out to local reporters criticizing RIT’s actions, and he testified on Kontor’s behalf at her internal hearing. He also filed a Title IX complaint with RIT, on the basis that federal law states that it is illegal for any institution that receives federal funding to discriminate on the basis of sex. (The Affordable Care Act also mandates that providers can’t deny health care on the basis of sex, although there are indications that the government will not move to enforce that.) But the suit, he says, “went nowhere.”

Last July, the Reporter, RIT’s student newspaper, obtained a copy of Kontor’s termination letter, which stated: “The Student Health Center’s practice prohibits prescribing hormone therapy for the purpose of gender transition.” Kontor countered that she had been treating transgender students for months, with the university’s support. An internal grievance committee found that RIT had not given Kontor a written warning before her dismissal, per policy; the committee recommended that the Student Health Center “move as quickly as possible to offer hormone therapy to transgender students.” Kontor also filed a complaint with the New York State Division of Human Rights on the basis that she had been discriminated against for providing care to transgender students. Last December, a state investigator found that RIT had “no policy regarding hormone therapy for transgender students” and no documentation to prove Kontor had been ordered to stop prescribing hormone therapy. However, the university did not reinstate Kontor.

RIT has declined to comment on Kontor’s dismissal. But spokesperson Bob Finnerty stated via email, “Students can expect the Student Health Centers’ staff to be sensitive and responsive to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, Intersex and Asexual students’ medical issues. In terms of hormone replacement therapy, we are currently reviewing services that exist on the RIT campus today.” 

RIT is hardly unique in its decision to block student access to HRT on campus. Only about 85 of 4,700 colleges and universities in the United States reported to Campus Pride—a national nonprofit that rates how well U.S. colleges serve the needs of LGBTQ students—that they cover gender-affirming surgery and HRT under their student health insurance. Another 23 schools reported they cover only HRT. Genny Beemyn, coordinator of Campus Pride’s Trans Policy Clearinghouse and director of the Stonewall Center at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, was unsure what to make of these numbers, given how many schools express solidarity with trans students in other ways. Read more via Rewire