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Pilot Study to Explore Transgender Health Issues in Arkansas

Arkansas Transgender Equality Coalition (A R T E C) Executive Director Andrea Zekis

ARTEC Executive Director Andrea Zekis

A grant from the Patient-Center Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) will enable the Arkansas Transgender Equality Coalition (ARTEC) to identify health challenges and research questions important to transgender individuals living in Arkansas. The organization plans to take what is learned to apply for another grant to support research into ways to improve the cultural sensitivity and quality of healthcare for transgender individuals.

“This project is for those previously not engaged in research, to pull people together from across the state and to then put in for a larger research grant that would be important to Arkansas and others in the nation,” said Andrea Zekis, director of the project and executive director of ARTEC. “The project is an opportunity for engagement from beginning to end, as much as people want to be involved.”

A person is transgender whose gender identity and sex assigned at birth do not align.

Some transgender individuals experience gender dysphoria, which is a feeling of discomfort, stress, confusion or negativity that is caused by a mismatch between the person’s sex assigned at birth and their gender. Access to treatment for gender dysphoria is often limited.

Transgender individuals face major health and health care challenges. Discrimination in healthcare settings and providers’ lack of knowledge can result in interactions in which transgender patients feel unsafe and unwelcome or are refused services. As a result, transgender individuals are less likely to use health services and the quality of their care may be poor. Rates for attempted suicide, substance abuse and HIV infection in the transgender community are among the highest.

In early 2014, transgender Arkansans founded the Arkansas Transgender Equality Coalition (ARTEC) as a statewide organization to advance justice and inclusivity for transgender and gender non-conforming Arkansans. Since then, in collaboration with UAMS researchers, ARTEC secured a $15,000 grant from the PCORI Pipeline to Proposal Awards Initiative. The particular type of award supports research affecting individuals or groups that are not usual candidates for health care research funding.

Support from PCORI over nine months will make it possible for ARTEC and its partners to build community and capacity across the state. Through social media and five summits, ARTEC will engage transgender individuals in discussions about their health concerns and research questions. The study period will culminate with a state conference, where findings will be presented.

Researchers at the Fay W. Boozman College of Public Health (COPH) at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) collaborated with ARTEC on the grant.

“While it is very important that this project also engage providers and researchers, we want the project to be defined by what the transgender community thinks is important,” said Kate Stewart, MD, MPH, Professor at the UAMS COPH Department of Health Policy and Management and the Director of the UAMS COPH Office of Community-based Public Health.

For more information, see www.transformhealthar.org.