Already a leader in LGBTQ services, UC Berkeley’s Tang Center this fall is adding two new services covered by student health insurance for its transgender students: Fertility preservation and hair electrolysis.
Laura Alie, who has a doctorate in psychology, is the chair of the center’s Transgender Care Team, a group of counselors and medical providers who provide counseling, hormones and help with surgery assessment for transgender students. She says it’s important for University Health Services to provide comprehensive coverage for all students, wherever they fall on the gender identity spectrum.
“There are an infinite number of ways that someone can identify in regard to gender,” says Alie. “It’s our goal to make sure trans or gender-nonconforming students feel completely at home in the Tang Center, no matter what department they go to.”
Last month, University Health Services at the Tang Center won recognition as a leader in LGBTQ Healthcare Equality from the Human Rights Campaign for the second year.
Among the medical and mental health services offered to trans students are hormone therapy, screening for sexually transmitted infections, counseling with a queer-identified psychologist and health assessments for those seeking gender-confirmation surgery. During the academic year, students can drop in to speak with a counselor, without signing any forms, at designated places and times on campus.
“The trans population hasn’t always had the best experience with mental health providers in the past,” says Alie. She says the informal, drop-in approach “can really demystify counseling.”
Students seeking a psychological assessment for gender-confirmation surgery can call Counseling and Psychological Services or Social Services to make an appointment with a member of the trans care team. An assessment is required for coverage by the Student Health Insurance Program. (The steps to follow are outlined in this flowchart.)
Although some people want to discuss their desire for surgery, says Alie, others just need official documentation and don’t want counseling at all. “We don’t assume that because you are seeking surgery that you’re also needing or wanting counseling,” she says. “But sometimes you are. And we’re happy to provide both.”
Alie says the trans care team grounds its work in being culturally competent — understanding that what someone thinks about who they are is influenced by the culture that they live in and grew up in. “Culture shapes our understanding of what we’re supposed to say, what we’re supposed to do, what we’re supposed to wear, how we’re supposed to take up space,” says Alie. “Everything related to gender is based in culture.”
To learn more about the Tang Center’s transgender care services, visit https://uhs.berkeley.edu/trans.