Supporting a Vulnerable Population

Every November 20th, the transgender community and its allies pause for a Day of Remembrance, honoring those lost to violence. The rest of the year, physicians and staff at the Rutgers Center for Transgender Health (RCTH) roll up their sleeves and get to work improving — and saving — lives.

Conservative estimates suggest three million Americans suffer from gender dysphoria, a sense of being born the wrong sex. Yet this profound alienation is only one of many challenges they face. Harassment drives many from their homes and schooling; others can’t find work or lose jobs because of their gender identity. Nearly half have suffered sexual assault and almost one-third live in poverty. Forty percent attempt suicide. In 2018, at least 22 transgender people have been fatally shot or killed by other violent means in the United States.

Stephanie,* a patient with the center, recounts firsthand experiences of extreme violence beginning at age 15. Now in her early thirties, she shared personal stories of being physically and sexually assaulted, adding, “A lot of girls experience so much worse.”

“We are treating them to avoid death. Death by homicide or suicide,” says the center’s cofounder Dr. Jonathan Keith. “If you spend time with people who are hurting and have been hurt, you understand this isn’t something anyone would willingly go through.”

The center, which made headlines for performing the state’s first phalloplasty last February, takes an integrative approach to caring for the whole patient by providing vital health and wellness services including psychiatry, infectious disease treatment and prevention, and other crucial treatments.

“Members of the transgender community are your neighbors, your colleagues, the baristas at your local coffee shop,” says Dr. Keith. “They’re everyday people who need our help and expertise to remain safe and be productive members of society.”

Respect, advocacy, and compassionate care stand at the heart of RCTH’s mission. Launched earlier this year in Newark, NJ, the center is dedicated to affirming and supporting this vulnerable and underserved community.

“How can we improve, make things safer, and make sure no one is being left behind, no matter where they live?” added Keith. “We are here to serve.”

*The patient’s name has been changed to protect her privacy