We support an affirming approach to managing the transgender and gender diverse (TGD) client, centering on the individual’s agency, autonomy and right to self-determination, as opposed to practices that pathologise and stigmatise transgender identity, imposing barriers to accessing healthcare services.
Transgender and gender diverse individuals have long faced discrimination on multiple axes, both globally and in South Africa. Although South Africa enshrines the protection of human rights in its Constitution, TGD individuals continue to face marginalisation, prejudice and threats to their safety. Challenges, including homelessness, unemployment, poor social support, bullying, harassment and violence, persist, indicating failures of policy development, practice implementation and a disregard for the human rights of individuals in the TGD community.
This guideline has been developed primarily with the intention of centering and amplifying voices of TGD individuals in order to facilitate access to healthcare that is sensitive, skilled and respectful. We recognise that there are significant gaps in the knowledge and skills of healthcare providers, and there is a lack of understanding of the unique experiences faced by TGD persons. The prevailing sentiment that many healthcare providers hold around TGD individuals, informed by ignorance and conditioning within social and societal structures, are malevolent towards this community, and often include harmful assumptions and generalisations. We believe that healthcare providers have an ethical obligation to interrogate these notions, and we promote an attitude of respect for diversity that upholds human rights.
It has been well established that access to competent and dignified gender-affirming healthcare (GAHC) is not only safe but also plays a significant role in improving measurable outcomes for TGD clients. It has also been well established that pathologising approaches and practices that limit access to care can be damaging and harmful.
Finally, we recognise that TGD individuals have historically endured being undermined, condescended to and pitied by the healthcare system and its providers. We affirm a commitment to upholding a strength-based perspective that values and respects the experiences of TGD clients and celebrates their individual identity rather than merely accepting or tolerating it.
This guideline, which no doubt will require ongoing revision, reflection and refinement in consultation with TGD communities and healthcare providers, represents a first step made in good faith towards creating a practical tool founded in robust scientific evidence, lodged within a human rights framework, and is intended to facilitate access to skilled and sensitive care that will yield tangible benefits to this unique and important group.
- Provide evidence-informed best practice recommendations in order to enable South African healthcare providers, including psychosocial and allied healthcare professionals, to offer quality, affirming services to TGD clients. The term ‘client’, for the purposes of this guideline, includes service users, patients and participants.
- Provide support to TGD clients when accessing healthcare services.
- Note: this publication is a summary version of an expanded guideline, which can be accessed here: https://sahivsoc.org/Subheader/Index/sahcs-guidelines.
This includes all healthcare providers, particularly those working in a primary care setting, public or private, or that care for TGD clients.
The guideline development committee comprised 17 people, chaired by Dr Anastacia Tomson and Rev. Chris/tine McLachlan, which was inclusive, with representation of providers, advocates and civil society organisations in the TGD space, and many with personal experience as a TGD client. Development was predicated on the necessity to amplify the voices of those within the TGD community in order to better meet their needs, rather than presuming that healthcare providers can address those needs alone. This guideline was informed by evidence-based research studies, as well as provider experience from within the field. The committee worked from a gender-affirming, non-gatekeeping, depathologising perspective using a participatory approach that centres on the TGD client’s agency and humanity, and upholds their dignity.1,2,3 Strict values underpin this guideline, as shown in Table 1. In order to ensure applicability to the South African context, focused effort was made to review local research studies. Resources from the global South were then accessed, and only key resources from the global North were incorporated. An extensive, external peer review process was conducted, which included both health provider and community reviews. Guideline development and publication were supported by the Southern African HIV Clinicians’ Society (SAHCS) through Dr Camilla Wattrus and Dr Lauren Jankelowitz.