By Taylor McAvoy
Eastside Women’s Health Center has provided the LGBTQ and transgender communities with support for more than a year. But something was missing in their name, said their two co-founders.
Now Eastside Total Health and Lactation, the clinic changed its name to represent their transgender clients and all-encompassing services from lactation to transgender gynecological care, according to co-founders Jennifer Jimenez and Kristina Chamberlain.
Chamberlain said she noticed clients who wanted the clinic’s name to be more representative of those they serve and take a stance in the political health care climate.
“I think our political and social involvement in transgender life just opened up more of a conversation,” Jimenez said. “We do have a strong voice when it comes to human rights and we want to be a champion and supporter of the people we work with.”
Since opening the clinic doors, Jimenez and Chamberlain wanted to be a part of a strong social and political group that represented their values. Jimenez is on the board of directors for the Greater Seattle Business Association, the largest LGBTQ and allied chamber of commerce in North America.
“It’s always great when health care providers work to be more inclusive of people of all genders,” Danni Askini, executive director of the Gender Justice League said.
She said Washington state is a part of the Coalition for Inclusive Health care whose goal is to make health care accessible, available and equitable for transgender and gender diverse citizens of Washington state.
Eastside Total Health and Lactation also advocated for Washington Won’t Discriminate in February. The campaign urged voters to not sign a petition to put I-1515 on the ballot. If it gathered enough signatures the initiative would have put Washington’s non-discrimination laws on the 2016 ballot for repeal. In a triumph for the transgender community, the initiative did not garner enough support.
“The challenging part is just health care today,” Chamberlain said. “It’s challenging to create the type of care that we want to and offer the type of services we want to while still making sure that we’re complying with insurance regulations. Health care should be accessible to everyone so we’re trying to create a space where everyone can get what they need.”
The Associated Students of University of Washington Queer Student Commission director Alice Crowe works at Country Doctor Community Clinic in Capitol Hill. As a transgender woman, she feels that a name change has to represent a cultural shift in transgender health care.
“It has to be more than a statement,” Crowe said. “It has to be an ideal.”
The medical community sometimes still relies on old notions of what trans health care is and what it means to be transgender, Crowe said. But those ideas need to change.
“Respect is something we desperately need,” Crowe said. “When we go into a medical clinic we want our identities to be validated and we want to be able to have doctors to understand our bodies and what effects our bodies are going through.”
She said the medical community has a rocky history with transgender people but believes things are moving in the right direction.
“I love the medical community at which I work and of course where I attend, my own physician, Crowe said. “I only wish that more groups could do this.”
Interim director of the Rainbow Center in Tacoma, Laura Brewer said the health care climate for transgender people has a long way to go, but it’s improving.
“I think the steps they took to be more trans friendly and more knowledgeable about trans care is super important and something that we would love to see more medical centers doing,” she said. “It’s not hard and it makes a big difference in the lives of transgender people.”
Jimenez and Chamberlain are working toward that goal. Trained in transgender health care, the entire staff has the skills to find a plan that fits the patient specifically. They offer a variety of suggestions for plans and screenings.
They also improved the language on their intake forms and now use patient’s preferred names over legal ones. This also provides a good opportunity to educate others about their transgender care and the proper use of language and pronouns.
In addition to transgender care, Jimenez and Chamberlain are improving their services overall.
They said clients in the business world expressed worries about returning to work after maternity leave and their ability to breastfeed. The new program would bring lactation support to women in the workplace.
“This is another way to address that feminist perspective of increasing access for women to have the information and the tools so that they can be one hundred percent successful at their breastfeeding desires but also one hundred percent successful in their profession,” Chamberlain said.
Eastside Total Health and Lactation also expanded their services to Renton in partnership with the Puget Sound Birthing Center.
Clients come from all over the state for the specific services they provide. So much so that the clinic now offers tele-med follow up conferences over the phone or Skype.
“We’ve had people come from Bellingham, Yakima, Olympia so for those clients it can be especially helpful,” Chamberlain said. “They’re coming here because they don’t have those kinds of services offered in their hometown.”
Jimenez worked with underserved communities in New York in 1998 when miseducation was a prevalent issue. She brought her experience to the new clinic in Kirkland in 2015 where she combined eastern and western styles of health care.
“My specific kind of style is being able to bridge that gap and really looking at a person holistically as an individual but also how they identify and fit into their landscape in their community,” she said.
Chamberlain said a feminist perspective of health care is all about educating anyone on their options for care; female, male, transgender or gender non-conforming.
“We’re giving them information and we’re working with them within the reality of what works in their lives,” Chamberlain said. “I think that in itself can be really empowering for our clients because that’s not a health care that they’re used to getting.”
It’s hard for transgender people to find a provider who is knowledgeable of their needs and is also a person of color, Brewer said.
“There’s just even fewer numbers of people there and that’s been difficult,” she said. “We would love to see more medical providers who are people of color and who are excited to work with the transgender community.”
Jimenez, whose mother immigrated from the Philippines, said she was a source of inspiration.
“She always instilled in me this idea of nothing should be handed to you, but when you have an opportunity seize that moment and go beyond it,” she said. “That kind of allowed me to put my roots down as an independent business owner and single mom and be confident in that way.”
Chamberlain’s experience working with underserved communities in Russia in 2000 and Guatemala in 2003 reinforced her existing ideals.
“Even though our cultures are so different, what people are looking for in their health care is the same,” Chamberlain said. “No matter where you are, people want to have support.”
Listen to co-founders Jennifer Jimenez and Kristina Chamberlain speak about their passions and business origins.