ORLANDO, Fla. – Months after a new law limited medical treatments for Florida’s transgender community, healthcare leaders are still trying to come up with solutions.
Gov. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., signed SB 254 on May 17.
In short, the new law blocks state funds from being used on someone’s transitional prescriptions or procedures, it prevents teens from starting new transitional treatments, and it gives sole power for writing new prescriptions to medical doctors, taking the power away from nurse practitioners.
A community of more than 100,000 Florida transgender residents were left looking for solutions to continue their care.
Orlando to Virginia
Justin Trenz decided moving was his best option.
He packed up his Orlando storage unit and headed to Virginia.
“I was pretty young, when I knew that I wasn’t normal -- according to what I had been taught was normal,” Trenz said.
When he was a teenager, he remembered his first Google search on his new laptop computer was how to turn into a boy.
“Now, I’m running from my home because it’s not safe here anymore,” he said. “I started building a life here, and it just feels like it’s being ripped away because it just doesn’t feel safe here in Florida right now.”
Joey Knoll founded Orlando-based Spektrum Health with a commitment to serve the LGBTQ+ community of Central Florida.
“When the Pulse Nightclub shooting happened in 2016, at the time, I worked in-patient, and I really wanted to be part of the response,” he said. “I wanted to help the community that I’m part of.”
He said over the years, more than 4,000 patients have come to his clinic for care.
That’s why he wanted to be a solution for those patients potentially impacted by SB 254.
“Because we knew this was coming, we planned ahead,” he said. “We made sure they had plenty of medications and plenty of refills, so that when the legislation was enacted, they wouldn’t just fall out of care instantly.”
“We’ve kind of just been really at the forefront of the whole battle,” said Lena Dunn, Spektrum’s chief operating officer.
Dunn said she was watching and waiting for a bill like this one to be filed.
“We came up with several different plans A, B, C, D, E, F, all the way down to probably Z, and then into asterisk, question mark, exclamation point, all of that,” she said.
They are still working on many of those plans.
One challenge -- Knoll is a nurse practitioner and since there is no medical doctor at Spektrum, no new prescriptions can be written.
They admit the refills they authorized will not last forever.
“Are we going to have to bus people to another state? You know, hop on the Spektrum bus, we’re heading up to New York, so we can get some health care,” Knoll said.
He hopes it will not come to that.
Right now, his team is talking with Florida lawmakers and attorneys trying to get the new law tossed out.
One clinic is offering hope across state lines.
“Plume is a virtual gender-affirming care for the trans and gender diverse community,” co-founder Dr. Jerrica Kirkley said. “We provide things like gender-affirming hormone therapy, primary care, mental health support, legal and social navigation. All of it from a virtual platform.”
Since it launched in 2019, Kirkley said Plume has helped 13,000 patients in 45 states, including Florida.
“We’re a solution for sure,” she said. “It’s challenging and I think it is really hard, and we see clinics closing their doors.”
Even Plume has limitations, however.
According to its website, they are not allowed to prescribe testosterone in every state.
In-person visits can also pose challenges.
“I think Plume is a solution,” she said. “But I know a lot of folks on the ground, whether they’re clinicians, advocacy folks, all working to challenge these laws, and they are putting in a lot of work and energy to find other solutions too.”
Plume is a solution for Trenz, who is one of their clients.
“I want people to realize that we’re not after anybody,” he said. “We just want to be celebrated for being alive and for being people. We’re your fellow human beings.”
Whether it’s an in-person clinic or a virtual one, some creative thinkers are working to be a solution for tougher laws.
“We are all advocates,” Knoll said. “We’ll do what we have to do for our patients.”
“It’s emotional, it’s painful, but we just have to keep our nose to the grindstone and keep going,” Dunn said.
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