THA puts together services and offers them at no charge
Texas Health Action, an Austin non-profit that promotes sexual wellness, opened its doors to its gender clinic a little more than a week ago with an appointment for one client. By the next day, they were booked through June.
THA was founded in May 2015, when “Folks were expressing a need for PrEP,” said Executive Director Joe McAdams.
Staffed by volunteers, THA built in testing for sexually transmitted diseases as part of the examination needed before starting PrEP, a method of preventing HIV infection by taking Truvada as prevention medication for people who are HIV-negative. But, “We quickly moved to become a sexual health and wellness clinic,” McAdams said.
THA qualified for 340B pharmacy status so that a portion of the money spent on Truvada or other prescribed medications that were dispensed at certain outlets would be returned to THA. That allows all services provided by THA to be otherwise free to the client.
Since opening, THA has become the fastest-growing PrEP clinic in the country.
Although Austin has a county hospital, it’s not set up with the same levels of care as Parkland Hospital in Dallas, McAdams explained. THA has been getting referrals from the victims unit to offer PEP, or post-exposure prophylaxis. Treating someone with Truvada who may have been exposed to HIV seems to prevent infection also.
Many of the people THA was seeing were transgender. So, “It made sense for the next step to be a gender clinic,” McAdams said.
This seemed to be the right time, McAdams said, with the rise of hate crimes around the country and the debate over SB6, the bathroom bill, in the Texas Legislature. What better time to help more people transition safely than the week SB6 passed the state Senate?
“We’re the antithesis to what’s going on politically,” McAdams said.
The new gender clinic takes a different approach to trans folks than many clinics do. Instead of challenging who people say they are, “We’re going to trust who they say they are,” McAdams said.
THA partnered with Dr. Cynthia Brinson, who has been treating trans people in her practice for more than 25 years. As part of Brinson’s practice, she takes care of people at the Travis County jail who have what she called specialty needs — those with HIV, Hepatitis C and people receiving hormones.
Brinson said she’s noticed over the years more patients are interested in being more open and want more acceptance. “As a result, people are struggling more with identity,” she said. “People want to live who they are and not pretend.”
Brinson said she’s dealt with a lot of suicide in her practice. She blames that on people not being accepted for who they are.
“SB6 is affecting people badly,” the doctor said. “A lot of people went to the Capitol to object.” Despite that, the bill passed the Senate this week 21-10.
Brinson said she hoped the new gender clinic makes a difference in the lives of a lot of people.
“People can begin feeling the external persona matches the internal and feel more complete,” she said. “They can become who they always knew they should be and have a worthiness they didn’t feel they had before.”
Brinson said before the clinic opened, she knew there was a tremendous need. But, “I didn’t realize they’d trust us so quickly,” she added.
Brinson said she’s continuing to encourage PrEP, which she called her passion. “It’s extremely important to me,” she said.
Her goal is stopping the virus in Austin with no new cases by 2020. In the last reporting year, more than 500 new cases were reported in Austin. That’s more new cases than San Francisco reported, largely because of that city’s Getting to Zero campaign that involves getting people likely to be infected on PrEP.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 17, 2017.