As state lawmakers engage in a vitriolic debate about which bathrooms transgender people can use, a Central Texas nonprofit is opening the region’s first transgender care clinic in Austin.
The nonprofit Kind Clinic, in a medical complex near 30th Street and Interstate 35, will provide free services such as hormone therapy specifically for people who are transgender, gender nonconforming or nonbinary. The services expand on the HIV-prevention work that the Texas Health Action nonprofit has been doing at the site since May 2015.
Joe McAdams, executive director of Texas Health Action, said the transgender-specific services were a logical extension of the organization’s larger mission, a product of growing recognition of the LGBTQ community’s needs, and are intended as repudiation of the tone set at the Capitol.
“Now is the time to be the antithesis of what’s coming from the political side” of the state, McAdams said. “That’s why we’re leaning into this.”
On Wednesday, Kelly Kline, a clinic patient and transgender rights advocate, talked quietly in one of the exam rooms with the clinic director, Cynthia Brinson, about her health. The topic quickly turned to the Capitol, where Kline testified Tuesday against Senate Bill 6, the so-called bathroom bill that would prohibit transgender-friendly bathroom, locker room and changing room policies in public schools, universities and in government buildings. The measure would also overturn city and county requirements for transgender bathrooms and prohibit cities and counties from withholding contracts based on a company’s bathroom policy.
“I had to use the bathroom (in the Capitol), and they gave me the ugliest looks,” Kline said. She shrugged and added, “I love my community, so I had to be there.”
Later, she said of the clinic: “I can’t stress enough how important it is to walk into a place where we don’t feel judged.”
A Senate committee ultimately endorsed the bill early Wednesday, despite overwhelming testimony against it.
The Austin clinic, which begins offering its services Thursday, is intended partly to offer transgender people, particularly low-income ones, a place they can feel comfortable seeking medical services, managers and community activists said.
“Competent and knowledgeable medical care is extremely important, and extremely hard to find in Texas” for transgender people, said Meghan Stabler, a transgender board member of the Human Rights Campaign, which advocates on various lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer issues.
Stabler said the standard medical path is often unavailable to low-income people who don’t identify with their birth sex. Patients often need counseling on gender identification, referrals to medical specialists when seeking hormone therapy, periodic checkups to ensure the hormones are working properly, and sometimes surgery.
The alternative, Stabler said, can be black-market distributors for hormones and reliance on a medically unsupervised, often criminal enterprise, which puts them at greater risk.
“If you don’t have a good job, you may not have access to good health insurance, and you may not have been able to go to an endocrinologist,” Stabler said. “I think this clinic is important for people who need advice, who need care, and who ultimately need hormones.”
The Austin clinic, which Stabler said was similar to one in Houston, opened in 2015 primarily to reduce HIV transmission among LGBTQ communities by, among other measures, prescribing pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, a medication that prevents HIV transmission. The clinic helps patients afford medication partly through donations, partly through a complicated federal process that, boiled down, amounts to patients with insurance subsidizing some of the cost of providing the medication to uninsured patients, McAdams said.
The HIV medication costs an insurer about $1,500 a month, while HIV treatment drugs can cost about double that, he said.
The clinic now has 800 patients, he said. It is, he added, the fastest-growing PrEP clinic in the country.
Brinson often answers charges that the clinic is encouraging unsafe sex by replying, “Well, people are already having condomless sex, so let’s take care of their needs as we can.”