Chicago health department holds first Transgender Health and Wellness summit

Leaders in the transgender community from across the country called for less restrictive social services funding for trans people in need at Chicago’s first Transgender Health and Wellness summit Friday.

The event, organized by the city health department and LGBTQ+ social services group Life Is Work, kicked off with a focus on recent policy affecting the state’s transgender population. It included panel discussions on various topics.

Antonio King, LGBTQ health and outreach liaison for the health department, said what he heard at the summit, both from panels and speakers as well as from others in the crowd, would inform policy and action going forward. That includes how he will now set up a health department focus group.

“We don’t know the experiences [trans people] go through and we don’t know how to help them best,” King said after sitting in on a session about harm reduction care. “This is an opportunity for us to learn more.”

While the speakers recognized Illinois has been seen as a safe-haven state for transgender people — with legislative wins like a non-binary “X” gender marker and shield laws that protect health care providers from lawsuits against them for providing gender affirming care — they said there’s still work to be done and that progress was fragile.

Some efforts include decriminalizing sex work because of how laws related to sex work have been used to target trans people. State Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, also announced she was working on a tax credit for trans people fleeing persecution in other states — and urged more LQBTQ people to run for office.

It’s part of a wave of bills currently in the Illinois House aiming to help trans people, such as HB5164, which would cap name change fees at $25 while also changing the requirement that anyone changing their name publish it in a newspaper and allowing name changes to be kept private from public records.

Another bill introduced in February, HB5507, would allow Illinois judges to file documents that support name changes in other jurisdictions when it’s harder for people to get the documentation needed for changing their names elsewhere.

However, advocates say a lot of government funding intended to help trans people has historically been tied to HIV, whether that meant medication or care. Such restrictions on how funds are used means many people can’t get help with what they need, such as getting housing or finding and preparing for a job.

“If somebody got a new job, they might need some boots, they might need some scrubs,” said Flomichelle Battles, executive director of Trans Solutions Research and Resource Center, an Indianapolis-based advocacy group. “But if all that money is tied to housing or being HIV positive, what about the young lady who is not but still wants to go to work?”

Battles also said she plans to try to bring a similar event to Indianapolis, and hopes it expands to the Midwest.

“Now I can go to the city of Indianapolis and say, ‘This is what Chicago is doing for their trans organizations, what are you doing for yours?’” Battles said. “It’s exactly what we need, not what other people think we need.”

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