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Gender affirming care 'vital' for some Kentuckians

Exterior of Planned Parenthood's Louisville health center.
Planned Parenthood's Kentucky centers remain open, providing care including wellness visits, birth control, emergency contraception and gender confirming hormone therapy. Planned Parenthood and EMW Women's Surgical Center are also helping patients connect with access to abortions in other states.

Maddie Leach, an attorney in western Kentucky, has been in transition for about five years. She used to drive six hours from her home to Chicago for gender affirming hormone treatments every three to six months. 

“I eventually found a doctor here who would keep me prescribed.  It's still hard to find a doctor who knows how to read the blood levels, which is really important for safety and efficacy of the medicine,” Leach said. “I haven't had blood work done since before the pandemic.”

Now, there are more options closer to home.

Planned Parenthood clinics in Kentucky and Indiana expanded services for transgender and non-binary patients in September, including hormone care for those transitioning. Gender affirming hormone therapy uses estrogen doses to feminize or testosterone to masculinize. It can help align the way people look and feel with their gender identities. 

Leach said missing vital checkups for hormone care is one of many dangers LGBTQ people face in getting proper health care. 

“I'm subject to the blood clots. Estrogen has a higher risk of blood clotting,” Leach said. “And then to hear that COVID causes blood clotting, too. Really, really scary times and without the access to medical care, it’s really dangerous.”

Planned Parenthood clinics now offer hormone therapy and related care in Louisville, Lexington and 14 locations across Indiana, in cities including New Albany, Indianapolis and Bloomington. 

Still, Leach said these are basic needs that should be widely accessible, and not just geographically.

“We really need medical professionals who aren't just concentrated on this area, who practice in all the areas, to be more informed about trans people, because we're not going away,” Leach said.

She added that while she could travel to Louisville for treatments, other LGBTQ residents of mostly rural parts of the state, like western Kentucky, might not. 

“We rely on word of mouth and ‘Well, this doctor helped me,’ and ‘If I can just go one time, I can get on hormones, and then my general doctor won't take me off of it because it's dangerous.’ We do things like that,” Leach said. 

Studies show gender affirming hormone therapy has mental and behavioral health benefits, including decreased anxiety and depression symptoms for both youth and adults. 

The Trevor Project is a national nonprofit focused on LGBTQ youth crisis prevention. It recently published a report highlighting a drop in the average rates of suicidal ideation or attempts among youth receiving the treatment. The study also points to decreased discrimination, as well as more social and familial acceptance as helping to improve mental and behavioral health. 

Planned Parenthood is working on a guide for Kentucky and Indiana patients that will provide information about advocacy, counseling and health care resources in six states, including Kentucky and Indiana.

Have you or someone you know sought or started gender affirming hormone therapy in Kentucky or Indiana? Would you be willing to share your experience? If so, reach Yasmine Jumaa at yjumaa@wfpl.com.

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