New clinic for transgender residents opening in Edmonton

The Gender Health Program at the University of Alberta will open in February 2018 with the hope of training doctors in trans health, and increasing access to treatment for people in the transgender community.

Gender Health Program at the University of Alberta will open in February

Lindsay Peace and her son, Ace, 17, who travelled out of province to get gender reassignment surgery.

It was New Year's Eve 2015, when 14-year-old Ace Peace told his mother he was transgender.

"The word transgender, I don't think I'd ever said it at that point," said Lindsay Peace, co-founder of Skipping Stone Foundation, an organization assisting diverse and transgender youth.

"It just never occurred to me."

That conversation sent them on a journey they knew would be rocky, but they didn't know just how difficult it would be to find physicians and specialists who were qualified, or who felt comfortable enough, to care for her son.

"Having a kid that's trans is the easy part, but navigating the system has been a nightmare," said Peace.

"I spent nine months, almost full time, figuring out who we needed to see."

To be eligible for funding in Alberta, people seeking gender reassignment surgery, or other treatments associated with transitioning, need at least one letter, sometimes more than one, from a qualified psychiatrist who can diagnose gender dysphoria.

Long wait times

Dr. Michael Marshall is one of five psychiatrists in Alberta qualified to make that diagnosis.

His new clinic, the Gender Health Program at the University of Alberta, will open in February with the hope of training doctors in trans health, and increasing access to treatment for people in the transgender community. It will be the first such clinic in the Prairie provinces.

"It's a place they can go to start the journey," said Marshall.

Dr. Michael Marshall will lead the Gender Health Program at the University of Alberta, opening in February 2018. (Michael Marshall)

He said patients typically wait more than six months to see a psychiatrist, which can be a critical period.

"People are frustrated, and the evidence shows, while waiting, people who suffer from gender dysphoria have some higher rates of lowered mood, anxiety and may sometimes come to harm," said Marshall.

"Transgenderism itself is not an illness. It is the distress that comes from having to be a person that one is not that leads to the diagnosis of gender dysphoria."

Lack of transgender health training

The clinic will also focus heavily on training for physicians and other health-care professionals.

"The need is big, and the number of practitioners who provide care is limited," said Marshall.

"Simple things like using the correct pronouns, the chosen name, allows good compassionate care. I look forward to the day when a person who is gender diverse, anywhere on the spectrum, can go into any medical facility and get compassionate care."

The province approved 38 applications for final-stage gender reassignment surgery for 2016-2017. The surgeries are performed in Montreal.