Diversity Matters: LGBTQ Pride Month
June is Pride Month, a time to celebrate the achievements and collective strength of the LGBTQ population.
At Michigan Medicine, individuals across the organization provide resources to those who identify as LGBTQ, including members of the U-M LGBTQ Health Network — a group consisting of faculty, staff, students and community members. Additionally, there is a committed team of experts dedicated to promoting equitable and inclusive health care to transgender individuals — employees who make up the Comprehensive Gender Services Program (CGSP).
Here’s a closer look at CGSP, whose works embodies the themes of Pride Month 365 days a year:
Providing gender-affirming care
CGSP connects transgender individuals to gender-affirming services across the academic medical center, which ranges from mental health services to letters of support (for hormone treatment and surgery) to support groups for patients.
Organized in 1995, CGSP was for many years the only — and is now likely the oldest — university-based program providing the full spectrum of mental health, primary care, specialty care and surgical services to transgender individuals.
Since its inception, CGSP’s surgical partners — comprised of plastic surgeons, urologists and gynecologists — have performed hundreds of procedures, including facial feminization, thyrolaryngoplasty, chest reconstruction and genital reconstructive surgery for people who identify with a gender that differs from their sex.
CGSP members have also published multiple book chapters and peer-reviewed journal articles on the topic of gender-affirming interventions, as well as participated in numerous panels and symposia, both nationally and internationally.
“Our team has become a respected resource for many other centers and universities when it comes to gender-affirming surgery programs,” said William Kuzon, M.D., the most senior plastic surgeon affiliated with CGSP.
A decades-long tradition
Sara Wiener, LMSW, director of CGSP, noted that while many other health systems across the country have recently “scrambled” to provide crucial services to transgender individuals, the fact that Michigan Medicine has been a longstanding provider of transgender care makes the institution stand out.
“Many years ago, a small group of providers came together to help meet the health care needs of the trans population — thus, planting the seed for what CGSP is today,” said Wiener. “These providers sought the education needed to provide necessary care for trans individuals because it’s the right thing to do — that inspires me every single day, and I am very proud of our decades-long tradition of providing outstanding gender-affirming care here at Michigan Medicine.”
While there are no on-site physicians at CGSP, the team regularly refers patients to providers throughout the health system based upon their individual needs.
It’s an important role — and one that often provides Wiener and her colleagues with moving experiences.
“When I think about the purpose of my work, I often think about one woman, in particular — she was in her late 40s and had lost everything because she identified as a woman,” said Wiener. “She shared with us that she was living out of her car, and came into CGSP for a letter of support to begin hormone treatment. I was able to connect her with a provider and through access to high quality, competent gender-affirming care, her life changed for the better. This is the case for so many of our patients.”
Living as their ‘authentic selves’
Stephen Rassi, Ph.D., LMSW, is a clinical social worker in CGSP, who also happens to be transgender. He credits the organization with providing individuals with the opportunity to “live as their unique, genuine and authentic selves.”
“Whether this means that a person is making physical or medical changes to align their body with the gender they know themselves to be, or they are dressing and presenting in a way that better reflects their self-image, or even if they are learning more about themselves from a psychological standpoint, watching a person as they open up, blossom and reach their full potential is incredibly rewarding,” said Rassi. “It’s a privilege to work for a program like this.”