L to R Behavioral Health Specialist Max Rorty, Dr. Charles Fenzi, and Physicians Assistant Sofia DeVaney at the Isla Vista Neighborhood Clinic Sept. 25, 2018.
Paul Wellman

When the Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics (SBNC) saw a need for quality transgender health care in the community, the staff jumped in to help fill the gap. Though Dr. Charles Fenzi, the CEO of the organization, explained that the clinics have been providing health care for trans adults “forever,” the clinics have now begun to offer medical services to trans youth as well at their Isla Vista location.

“Healthy transgender people do not require medical specialists,” said Physicians Assistant Ana Sofia DeVaney, whose focus is on family medicine. She provides transgender youth with hormone blockers that essentially halt the process of biological changes in teens, as in the vocal cords and facial structure and the development of breast tissue. A teen shouldn’t have to undergo a puberty process that doesn’t match their identity, said Max Rorty, the behavioral health collaborative care manager for the Neighborhood Clinics. Once a young person is ready, she said, they can begin hormone correction therapy to align their body with the gender they identify with.

Many medical providers in Santa Barbara lack the training to treat trans people and refuse to accept them as patients. “Sometimes I would get the ‘we aren’t able to provide adequate healthcare for you here’ line,” said Genivieve LeDuc, now a patient at SBNC’s I.V. clinic. “Instead of feeling tolerated and processed, the I.V. clinic made me feel embraced and welcome,” she said.

Currently, the Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinic in Isla Vista is the only youth provider in Santa Barbara County that has been ‘Trans Approved’ by the Santa Barbara Transgender Advocacy Network (SBTAN). “We were originally informed that there were no providers seeing pediatric patients in our county,” said Christie Macias, parent of a trans teen, but an SBNC therapist referred them to the I.V. clinic. “We walked into our appointment hoping to discuss blockers, and the doctor was AMAZING!” Macias wrote. “She was insistent that it was unacceptable for my son to go through a puberty that did not align with how he identifies,” she said.

SBNC prides itself on using correct pronouns for its patients. The use of the right pronoun is only one step in offering proper medical care, but it can feel like a giant step for patients who are constantly being addressed incorrectly — by pronouns that do not correspond to their gender identity. Not only do SBNC caregivers address patients correctly, but the staff at all seven clinics have been trained to ask for a patient’s preferred pronouns. To create a more welcoming atmosphere, the staff has also created stickers displaying their own preferred pronouns.

Providing quality care is crucial for this population in particular. According to a 2018 American Academy of Pediatric survey, more than 50 percent of trans boys, 41 percent for nonbinary teens, and 30 percent of trans girls have attempted suicide. The national rate of adolescent suicide is 14 percent. Not living in their identity makes teens highly susceptible to suicide, said DeVaney. Helping teens transition can help curb the terrifying statistics. “I’m glad it’s less difficult now for our trans neighbors to get this basic level of care,” said DeVaney.


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