The healthcare industry is getting an inclusive reboot.
Healthcare services have historically overlooked queer and transgender identities and experiences. One in five transgender and gender nonconforming people report being refused care due to their gender identity, while 50% said they had to teach their providers about proper care for a transgender or gender nonconforming person, according to a recent survey of 6,450 transgender and gender nonconforming people from the National LGBTQ Task Force.
“The trans experience is unique in that, for most, it involves navigating a gender and cis-normative healthcare system that may not understand their experiences. It can be highly traumatic,” said Dr. Matthew Wetschler, co-founder and CEO of Plume. This is starting to change, thanks to a handful of new healthcare startups created expressly for LGBTQIA+ patients.
Folx is a digital healthcare platform created specifically for queer and transgender patients. Founded in December 2020, the platform aims to fill a large hole in healthcare. “This is a community that’s really underserved,” Folx founder and CEO A.G. Breitenstein told Well + Good. “There’s so much about health care that’s very specific to [LGBTQIA+ patients],” that isn’t reflected in existing healthcare offerings, including hormone replacement therapy and testing for sexually transmitted infections. “The instructions for traditional [STI] tests are completely gendered and don’t address the queer population in an inclusive way,” Breitenstein explained. In contrast, “the language the Folx kits use is completely different and really tracks with the community we are serving.”
Folx services include virtual appointments with queer and trans clinicians, at-home STI testing and treatment and gender-affirming hormone therapies, with hopes to open a bricks-and-mortar clinic in the future.
Plume is another company working to make healthcare more inclusive. The $99-per-month on-demand service includes medical evaluations, ongoing monitoring and lab assignments and prescriptions, and will soon provide medication delivery, as well. In February, the company received $14M in funding to scale their services nationally to match growing demand since its December 2019 launch.
Mate Fertility is working to make fertility treatments more accessible for queer and gender non-conforming individuals. Launched in February 2021, the company aims to improve availability and affordability of fertility treatments across the United States, with a focus on the LGBTQIA+ community. “The queer community has been locked out of these services,” Mate cofounder Gabriel Bogner said of fertility treatments like IVF and surrogacy, which are two of the only options available for queer partners to become pregnant. “It became my mission to democratize healthcare for my community.”
Mainstream healthcare brands are also starting to course correct. In January, health insurance provider Aetna announced that it would expand coverage to include gender-affirming surgeries, which were previously considered cosmetic rather than medically necessary, and therefore not covered by insurance. And period brands like Always, Callaly and Superdrug are changing their language, marketing and products to better represent a variety of experiences.
The revision marks an important shift in how healthcare companies view the needs of queer and transgender individuals—a consideration which is only set to grow in both importance and scale. “The estimates on the size of the trans population since a decade ago has been growing 20% year over year,” said Wetschler. “And Generation Z is five times more likely than baby boomers to identify as trans. The full visibility of the trans community is yet to be realized.” Moving forward, brands will need to take a radically inclusive stance when designing products and services for a wider range of identities.
Main image courtesy of Folx