There was once groundbreaking support for members of the trans community in the UT system in the 1960s, but as part of Gov. Abbott’s recent political strategy, the little support that survived from the sexual revolution has been whittled away. Students need to live up to this legacy of support and ensure that the most vulnerable members of society aren’t left by the wayside.
Gender-affirming care is not a novel topic, even in Texas. The history of trans medical care in Texas and specifically the UT system began with the sexual revolution of the 1960s. The Gender Dysphoria Research and Service Program at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston performed its first gender-affirming surgery on a transgender woman in 1966. The Hogg Foundation for Mental Health has found no record of gender clinics in the state prior to this. The Galveston clinic continued to provide gender-affirming care through a time where being transgender was classified as a sexual deviation in the DSM-II and later a general mental illness in the DSM-III. In 1976, the clinic’s leader Paul Walker came to the defense of the trans community by stating that being transgender was not a mental illness, an opinion that was wildly unpopular at the time.
The work of the gender clinic is not just a touchstone from the past; the UT system has continued to provide a variety of medical and surgical services and care to members of the transgender community for decades. UT physicians provide gender-affirming care within its clinics in the Houston area to individuals who meet the referral letter requirements procedures including surgeries, hormone treatments and speech therapy. With plans to build a new UT medical center in North Texas in Erwin, students should push for the expansion of these well-established gender clinics to our part of the state.
2023 was not a good year for legislation regarding transgender people and the queer community as a whole with the Texas legislature introducing 141 bills that target this marginalized community. SB 14, which went into effect on Sep. 1, 2023, banned drug and surgical gender-affirming care in the state of Texas for minors after a legal battle. And of course, SB 17 forced public institutions like UTD to eliminate their DEI programs and offices, which provided vital services and support to members of marginalized communities.
While the dissolution of ODEI will not make inclusivity unachievable, the events conducted by OCRS will not be the same as before, as they cannot explicitly relate to diversity, equity or inclusion. ODEI had just hired its first vice president, Yvette Pearson, in 2021 during a major period of growth for the program, in large part due to donations from alumni and corporations totaling $1 million. Now 3 years later the office is no more and its presence on the UTD website has been practically erased.
It is remarkable that in Texas, there were figures like Walker pushing for the advancement of the trans community as far back as the ‘60s, but it would be unacceptable to let that advocacy become a thing of the past. There has been an exodus of people leaving the state because Abbott and the transphobic legislators in the Texas Senate and House seek to make it impossible to live in this state and exist as trans. It is imperative that we as students continue to demonstrate support for all those that this state and the regents of its schools would see discarded and prevent this exodus from getting worse.
The new Office of Campus Resources and Support is just beginning, and now is the time for us to ensure that the administrators of UTD do not buckle to outside pressure and give in to the regressive demands of hateful people. The school should do the bare minimum to follow SB 17, since the protection of students should come first.