Gender-Affirming Care is Life Saving


In September, Pittsburgh City Council unanimously passed legislation to make Pittsburgh a sanctuary city for gender-affirming care, protecting patients and providers from any laws that might restrict or ban this type of care.

This was welcome news to the staff at Allies for Health + Wellbeing, a nonprofit health clinic in East Liberty that, among other services, offers gender-affirming care.

“At Allies, we focus on holistic healthcare,” said Jacque DeRubbo, director of health services. “That means we treat the whole person and their full, lived experience, including their gender identity.”

According to the World Health Organization, gender-affirming care can include social, psychological, behavioral, or medical interventions to support and affirm a person’s gender identity. This can mean surgical procedures or hormone therapy, but it can also mean changing hairstyles or clothing to better represent a person’s gender identity.

At Allies, those seeking gender-affirming care can get hormone replacement therapy, primary care, and sexual healthcare that honors their gender identity. For services like gender-affirming surgery, Allies offers referrals to local experts in those areas.

“There’s a lot of gender-affirming actions somebody can take,” said Conrad Kalcich of Pittsburgh, a transgender man. “There’s a lot of things we can’t do for ourselves, and those things are really important for our mental health and how we need and want to be seen.”

While the City of Pittsburgh has codified its support for gender-affirming care, transgender people can still run into situations here where healthcare professionals are not respectful of their identity.

Kalcich dealt with dismissive and callous treatment due to his gender identity during an ER visit after surgery.

“When I was going through my bottom surgery healing, I had a catheter blow up in my bladder,” Kalcich explained. “My catheter fell out, which at that point was pretty dangerous for my body.”

He went to the emergency room where he had an unpleasant encounter with a doctor.

“When I saw the general ER doctor, he said, ‘Yeah, this is way out of my depth,’ and walked out,” Kalcich said. “I didn’t know what was happening. You don’t have the energy to advocate for yourself in those moments necessarily.”

Kalcich noted, though, that the ER experience was an outlier for him.

“My experiences in Pittsburgh have also made me feel very lucky that the folks who do work with us are highly trained and highly motivated to provide good care for us,” he said. “Once you find good, trans-competent providers, they’re excellent. I have gotten used to a level of care that’s not available to regular folks.”

That level of care is something that DeRubbo hopes every patient who comes to Allies experiences. “Our organization is very patient-centered,” she said. “Whether they are visiting us for gender-affirming care, HIV specialty care, gynecological care or primary care, we want our patients to feel empowered to work with our providers and to feel that they are in charge of their own health.”

“It’s a very humanizing experience when you have someone who’s really dedicated to doing the work,” Kalcich said. “When you find providers like that, you get better care.”

Allies for Health + Wellbeing currently is accepting new patients across all areas of its clinical practice, from gender-affirming care to HIV specialty care, primary care and gynecological care. To learn more about Allies and its services, or to make an appointment, visit AlliesPGH.org.