LGBTQ+ healthcare experiences inconsistent, lack some services for transgender Pittsburghers

Coley Alston, program director of Hugh Lane Wellness Foundation, sits for a portrait in their office on Monday, March 6, 2023, in East Liberty. Alston is an advocate for inclusive healthcare for all gender expressions. (Photo by Stephanie Strasburg/PublicSource)

Some hospital systems are expanding training to providers, as patients increasingly seek gender-affirming approaches — and basic respect.


Coley Alston said the shortcomings in the healthcare system in Pittsburgh include what they call the “trans broken-arm syndrome.”

“It’s like, ‘I can’t address what you actually came in for because I’m so enamored by the fact that you’re different than other patients I’ve seen today,’” said Alston, a transgender individual and the program director at the Hugh Lane Wellness Foundation, which helps to improve the health of the LGBTQ+ and HIV communities by providing resources and training.

The “trans broken-arm syndrome,” in which healthcare providers may be distracted by questions about the person’s gender, is indicative of a larger issue: In a town where healthcare giants loom, some Pittsburgh providers confirm a need for better and more accessible gender-affirming care, sometimes referred to as gender-inclusive care. 

The Association of American Medical Colleges defines gender-affirming care as a range of social, psychological, behavioral and medical interventions designed to support and affirm an individual’s gender identity when it conflicts with the gender they were assigned at birth. 

Alston explains that gender-affirming care refers to the services of healthcare providers who treat a variety of gender identities. This care can range from providers using an individual’s correct pronouns to providing care related to their gender including hormone therapy. 

At the Hugh Lane Wellness Foundation, Alston helps individuals seeking gender-affirming care navigate the Pittsburgh healthcare systems. While Alston acknowledges there are places in Pittsburgh that do provide gender-affirming care, they say there is no consistency in care throughout the city. 

“I can’t name one particular place saying, ‘Oh everyone always gets really good care here,” Alston said. 

“Some places, if you’re a trans masculine person, maybe you’ll see really good care, but you might get harassed if you’re a trans feminine person, and it’s just very interesting to see how community members have shared feedback,” Alston said. “We just have a lot of improvement and a lot of ways to go still.”

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