News & Politics

Rochester Students Demand Transgender Drugs

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On Monday, students at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) protested to demand the school’s on-campus health center provide transgender drugs, which it stopped providing last spring.

The on-campus student health center had briefly provided hormone replacement therapy (HRT) under Dr. Annamaria Kontor, who was fired last May for exceeding her authority in providing these drugs. Kontor had reportedly ignored several notices urging her to stop the practice.

“HRT is not a luxury that people just want — they need this. It’s a medication,” Natasha Amadasun, a student at the protest who identified as non-binary and transgender but does not take HRT, told the Democrat and Chronicle. Amadasun works at the Q Center, an LGBT establishment on campus.

“A lot of students come into the Q center with questions (about access) and we can’t really help them because we don’t have much information,” Amadasun, who goes by the pronoun “they,” told the paper.

Since the on-campus center no longer provides HRT, students who identify with the gender opposite their birth sex go to either Trillium Health or the University of Rochester Medical Center, both of which have long wait lists and can be difficult to access without vehicles, the Democrat and Chronicle reported.

Kenji Vann, a biological woman identifying as a man, reported on relying on parents and friends to drive him to Strong Memorial Hospital for HRT appointments. Having hormone treatments available on campus “would be so much more convenient for scheduling,” Vann said.

“Students are tired of waiting and feeling kind of invisible, especially on a campus with such a large queer presence,” Taryn Brennan, president of the LGBT group OUTspoken, which organized the protest, told the Democrat and Chronicle. The protest also complained about the policy on gender-neutral bathrooms on campus, and demanded more accessible information for LGBT students.

Perhaps ironically, RIT has a reputation for championing LGBT identities, including offering “gender-inclusive” housing.

Despite this stance, the school insisted that Dr. Kontor did not have the proper authority to provide HRT. In a letter firing Kontor, Dr. Wendy Gelbard, the college’s associate vice president of Student Health, Counseling and Wellness, wrote, “The Student Health Center’s practice prohibits prescribing hormone therapy for the purpose of gender transition.”

Gelbard later repeated that administering and monitoring HRT for the purpose of gender transition was “beyond the scope of practice of the Student Health Center.” She also wrote that Kontor had ignored several notices not to provide hormone therapy to transgender students — notices Kontor denied receiving.

Kontor filed a complaint with the New York State Division of Human Rights, which ruled last December that the university had likely engaged in discrimination in firing her.

The university’s medical center is currently conducting a comprehensive review of its services for transgender and other students, and whether it should add services such as HRT. RIT spokeswoman Ellen Rosen told the Democrat and Chronicle she could not estimate when the review would be completed.

“RIT is a welcoming and inclusive community and we take the health and well-being of all our students very seriously,” Rosen said in a statement. “We work daily to provide excellent care and services to our students, and they can expect the Student Health Center staff to be sensitive and responsive to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, intersex and asexual students’ medical issues. We want (those students) to know that we see and hear them and are open to hearing their thoughts, feelings and perspectives.”

The on-campus health center may not be equipped to rightly handle hormone therapy, and while students may have to wait on a list for HRT elsewhere, this protest seems mostly focused on convenience.

Furthermore, hormone therapy and the more drastic transgender surgery have left people scarred, as they later rejected their cross-sex identity. Max Robinson, a 21-year-old woman who once identified as a man, regrets having taken male hormones and removing her breasts, calling such “treatments” “not a cure at all.”

Cross-sex hormones for those who have already gone through puberty carry serious health risks. While the longterm medical and psychological effects remain unknown, estrogen in biological males brings a clinically significant risk of deep-vein thrombosis and testosterone in biological females increases the chance of developing ovarian cysts later in life.

Some hormone effects are irreversible. Testosterone in biological females will cause irreversible deepening of the voice and augmentation of the clitoris, while estrogen in biological males will cause irreversible enlargement of breasts.

Contrary to the craze and the activists, the science on transgenderism is not settled, and even the most drastic of changes cannot alter the fact that biological males have an X and a Y chromosome while biological females have two X chromosomes. Even Bruce Jenner, who has gone all the way in forcing his body to mimic that of a woman, still has male DNA.

RIT seems to support transgender identity and to consider hormone therapy to be helpful, rather than harmful. Transgender activists are not satisfied with this, however.