News / Halifax

Making the doctor's office a 'safe place:' research shows trans Nova Scotians encounter range of discrimination

A study on how trans people experience health care will be presented Tuesday evening in Halifax


Most Nova Scotians don’t think twice about walking into the doctor’s office.

But for transgender and gender diverse (trans*) residents, new research shows anything including walking into a waiting room, talking with the doctor or nurse, and getting proper care can include subtle to blatant examples of discrimination.

“We want to make the doctor’s office a safe place for people to go,” said researcher Ella Vermeir on Monday.

“If people are avoiding taking care of themselves because they’re fearful of how they’re going to be treated, that’s an awful thing.”

Vermeir, who conducted the research in a Master of Arts degree in health promotion from Dalhousie University, interviewed eight trans* people about their experiences with primary and emergency care over the last year and a half.

She became interested in the subject having had friends and family who were trans* that expressed difficulties in health care, Vermeir said. While volunteering at the Halifax Sexual Health Centre, she also often heard trans* people say the clinic was “one of the only places” they felt comfortable.

Looking into it, Vermeir said she found very little data on the subject in Canada, let alone Nova Scotia.

When she put out a Facebook call for interested participants, Vermeir said her professor advised her to set aside a few months to recruit enough people for the study. However, within five hours Vermeir said she had all her interviews booked and was turning people away because she didn’t have the space.

“That was very unexpected and surprising, but also very alarming,” Vermeir said. “There’s an obvious need for research to be done and … people have things to say.”

What Vermeir found was discrimination against trans* people seeking health care ranged on a scale: from smaller things like a tone changing and someone being less willing to help, to “significant” discrimination like purposely outing a trans* person in front of others, or doing an unnecessary physical exam seeming to come “out of curiosity that they want to look at this person’s body.”

Although there were some experiences with care providers that were kind and professional, Vermeir said she was surprised by the amount of negative interactions trans* people face in Halifax - a city many like to imagine as “ahead” of other parts of the world.

“I don’t think that we can kind of hide behind the fact that we’re a progressive city - we need to actually be doing things to be inclusive,” Vermeir said.

Vemeir’s developed a one-page “knowledge translation tool” for care providers on appropriate actions, how to make offices comfortable by having gender-neutral washrooms and making intake forms more inclusive, and other suggestions.

The research presentation is open to anyone. It runs Tuesday from 7-9 p.m. at the Halifax Central Library, Lindsay Children's Room, 2nd Floor by prideHealth, part of the Nova Scotia Health Authority aimed at ensuring services are safe and appropriate for all LGBTQ people.

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