Gender-Affirming Care and LGBTQ+ Support Groups

June marks Pride Month, a period dedicated to honoring the LGBTQ+ community and acknowledging the advancements made in the fight for equality and rights and reminding our community of LGBTQ+ support groups. One key issue is expanding access to gender-affirming care for transgender and nonbinary individuals.

Gender-affirming care allows people to outwardly match their gender identity through social, medical and/or surgical transitions. This can be a lifesaving treatment for many in the LGBTQ+ community. According to the American Psychological Association, undergoing gender transition improves the overall well-being of transgender people. Access to quality, compassionate care helps reduce discrimination and mental health issues. 

This article provides an overview of gender-affirming care, why it matters for LGBTQ+ individuals, the types of care available, and LGBTQ+ support groups and resources to learn more during Pride Month and beyond. Our goal is to spread awareness so everyone can celebrate pride in their authentic gender identity.


What is Gender Affirming Care?

Gender-affirming care refers to social, medical, and psychological services and treatments that help transgender and nonbinary individuals align their appearance and characteristics with their gender identity. This type of care aims to validate a person’s gender identity by allowing them to live authentically and comfortably as who they know themselves to be.

There are several components of gender-affirming care:

Social Affirmation

This involves steps like changing one’s name, pronouns, haircut, and clothing to align with one’s gender identity. Using facilities, like restrooms and locker rooms, that match one’s gender identity is also part of social affirmation. Having supportive friends, family, coworkers, and community that recognize and affirm one’s gender identity is crucial for social transitioning.

Medical Affirmation 

For those who want to medically transition, this can involve hormone therapy and various surgical procedures. Medical treatments help individuals develop physical characteristics associated with their gender identity. This may include facial or body masculinization/feminization, chest surgery, or genital reconstruction surgery. The exact treatments depend on each person’s specific goals.

Mental Health Support

Mental health services like counseling and therapy can provide guidance in one’s gender transition. Talking through feelings with a supportive professional helps many transgender and nonbinary people process emotions that may come up during their transition. Therapy offers a safe space to discuss challenges and celebrate milestones.


Importance of Gender-Affirming Care

Gender-affirming care is extremely important for the health and well-being of transgender and gender-diverse individuals. Access to gender-affirming medical treatments and social support has been shown to greatly improve mental health outcomes and quality of life. 

Some of the key benefits of gender-affirming care include:

  • Improved mental health and reduced depression/anxiety. Being able to live as one’s true gender identity and having gender affirmation from others has a hugely positive impact on mental health. Individuals report lower stress levels, greater life satisfaction, and an overall improved sense of well-being.
  • Reduced suicide risk. Studies show that gender-affirming care significantly reduces suicidal ideation and attempts among transgender individuals. Affirming medical care and social acceptance act as protective factors against the alarmingly high rates of suicide within the transgender community.  
  • Ability to live authentically as true gender. Access to treatments like hormone therapy and gender-affirming surgeries allows transgender individuals to align their physical appearance and characteristics with their gender identity. This alleviates distressing gender dysphoria and enables individuals to live fully and confidently as their true gender.

Providing compassionate and comprehensive gender-affirming care is absolutely vital for supporting transgender people, validating their identity, and promoting their health, safety and happiness. It’s an essential human right that can transform and save lives.


Finding a Provider

When looking for a provider for gender-affirming care, it’s important to find someone you feel comfortable with and who has experience treating transgender patients. Here are some tips for finding a good provider:

  • Look for providers who list experience with transgender healthcare or LGBTQ+ patients on their website or in their practice description. You can search online directories like GLMA or Psychology Today.
  • Ask your doctor or current therapist for a referral to a transgender-friendly provider. Local LGBTQ+ centers may also have recommendations.
  • Schedule a consultation to interview potential providers before committing to treatment. Come prepared with questions like:
    • How much experience do you have treating transgender patients? 
    • Are you knowledgeable about the WPATH standards of care?
    • Do you provide hormone therapy, surgeries, or other transition-related care?
    • Do you accept my insurance? If not, what are the costs?
  • Check that the provider you choose is in-network with your health insurance. Call your insurance company to ask which transition-related treatments are covered. This is important, as some treatments can be very expensive without insurance.
  • Look for providers with expertise in transgender mental healthcare. Counseling can be an important part of transitioning comfortably. Seeking out therapists experienced in gender identity issues is ideal.

Finding a compassionate, knowledgeable provider you trust is key for receiving quality gender-affirming treatment. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and do your research to ensure you find the right fit.


Mental Health Considerations

The LGBTQ+ community faces disproportionately high rates of mental health issues like anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts. Studies show that LGBTQ+ youth are 4 times more likely to attempt suicide than their peers. Discrimination, bullying, and lack of acceptance from family or community can contribute to poor mental health outcomes

Finding an LGBTQ+-affirming therapist and/or an LGBTQ+ support group is crucial for getting appropriate support. Look for therapists who display LGBTQ+-positive signs or mention LGBTQ+ issues in their profiles. If possible, get referrals from other LGBTQ+ people. It’s reasonable to ask potential therapists about their experience with and approach to LGBTQ+ clients. You deserve a space to discuss your identity and related struggles without judgment. 

A supportive therapist can help you process traumatic experiences like bullying, navigate coming out, and build self-esteem or resilience against discrimination. They may also assess you for mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, PTSD, and help you manage symptoms. Group therapy with other LGBTQ+ people can provide community and show you’re not alone in your experiences. 

Don’t be afraid to “therapist shop” until you find the right fit. Having an LGBTQ+-affirming mental health professional on your side can make a huge difference. Prioritize your mental well-being and get help now if you’re struggling.


LGBTQ+ Resources in Northern Colorado

SummitStone Health Partners offers LGBTQ+ support groups to provide a safe space for individuals to share experiences, feel understood and accepted, and gain support. Groups are open to adults who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual, pansexual, and more. SummitStone’s LGBTQ+ support groups are facilitated by licensed therapists who specialize in working with the LGBTQ+ community. The groups meet weekly and focus on topics like coming out, relationships, self-esteem, advocacy, and more. 

In addition to SummitStone’s LGBTQ+ support groups, Fort Collins and Northern Colorado have other LGBTQ+ organizations and resources:

  • Northern Colorado Equality – Nonprofit organization dedicated to achieving full equality for LGBTQ+ people through advocacy, education, outreach, and celebration. They host events like Pride festivals.
  • NoCo SafeSpace – A local resource providing a welcoming and safe environment for LGBTQ+ individuals, offering support, education, and advocacy. They focus on creating an inclusive community space for all.
  • The Rainbow Circles – This organization offers a variety of programs and services for the LGBTQ+ community, including support groups, educational workshops, and social events. They aim to create a safe and inclusive environment for individuals to connect and thrive.
  • SPLASH Youth of Northern Colorado – SPLASH provides support, education, and advocacy for LGBTQ+ youth and their families. They offer a range of programs, including support groups, social events, educational workshops, and leadership opportunities, fostering a supportive and inclusive environment for young LGBTQ+ individuals.

The LGBTQ+ community in Northern Colorado is strong, vibrant, and supported by great local organizations. Reach out to SummitStone or any of these groups to get involved and access support.