May 23, 2016—The debate over a North Carolina law that prevents transgender people from using bathrooms corresponding to the gender with which they identify has pushed transgender health into the national headlines. On May 19, 2016, the Harvard Longwood Campus hosted an event called “Trans 101” to talk about the North Carolina law and other issues relating to transgender health. Speakers at the event, held in Kresge G1, said that fighting the legislation was important, but that it shouldn’t overshadow larger issues facing the community.
Sari Reisner, postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Epidemiology at Harvard Chan School and assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, told the crowd that bathrooms are a stressor for transgender individuals but said that focusing solely on bathrooms misses the larger health issues facing transgender people—especially adolescents. Reisner’s research at the Fenway Institute has shown that transgender youth are at a higher risk for depression and suicide. But, he says more research is desperately needed—pointing out that there were only 116 studies worldwide focusing on transgender health between 2008-2014.
Reisner says there has been one key positive change: “The major paradigm shift we’ve seen in the last 10 years or so is moving from this notion of transgender as a [mental health] disorder to transgender as an identity.” Reisner says the impact of this shift is significant, pointing that out when people are affirmed in their gender, they are more likely to seek out health care services.
Following Reisner’s remarks, Mason Dunn, executive director of the Massachusetts Trans Political Coalition, hosted an open dialogue among students, faculty, and staff from around the Longwood Medical Area. Dunn hoped that those in attendance learned more about issues facing the transgender community and how they can be an ally to those in the community.
Photo: Sarah Sholes