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Transgender community honoured to help Otago teaching

Tuesday 11 September 2018 1:26pm

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Working as a team ... members of Dunedin's transgender community Denise Gordon-Glassford (left) and Laurel McLachlan (right) with Otago academics Dr Althea Gamble Blakey and Dr Gareth Treharne.

Members of Dunedin’s transgender community who have been working with Otago academics say they hope that because of their help, other transgender people will be met with a more capable and understanding healthcare system.

Laurel McLachlan and Denise Gordon-Glassford are two of a group of transgender community members involved in the University’s Transgender Education Community of Practice (Teacup) research group.

The aim of the Teacup project is to develop safe and effective ways to include transgender community members in co-teaching health professional students in small groups.

"I hope that there will be a young version of myself in the future who won’t have to hide for so long. I hope life will be much simpler and more positive for them."

Denise had the first government-funded gender confirming genital surgery under a system introduced in 2005 that ran until the surgeon retired leaving transgender people to once more travel overseas.

“This is a good example of why it is so important to make sure that we have appropriate healthcare within New Zealand,” she says.

Laurel, who is 72, says she felt different from about the age of four or five, but kept it hidden until eight years ago when she started her social transition. Four years ago she travelled to Thailand for surgery.

The pair say they are honoured to be taking part in this project.

“It’s been a learning curve for me,” Denise says. “It’s wonderful to be involved in something I’ve been so passionate about for the last 25 years.”

Laurel adds that her involvement in the project isn’t for herself but for others.

“I have experienced nothing but informed and positive attitudes from my personal healthcare professionals. I got involved with Teacup so other transgender individuals would experience similar medical understanding.

“I hope that there will be a young version of myself in the future who won’t have to hide for so long. I hope life will be much simpler and more positive for them.”

The Teacup project is being led by healthcare pedagogy expert Dr Althea Gamble Blakey and Psychology Senior Lecturer Dr Gareth Treharne in collaboration with other teaching staff and transgender community members.

Dr Gamble Blakey says the project aims to enhance education around transgender issues. The teaching staff bring expertise on teaching, and the transgender community bring expertise in the form of lived experience and powerful stories of resilience.

“Having got to know the Teacup group, we have developed a community of practice in which it is possible to ask appropriate questions, query the language that gets used, and challenge thinking in respectful ways.

"Having got to know the Teacup group, we have developed a community of practice in which it is possible to ask appropriate questions, query the language that gets used, and challenge thinking in respectful ways."

“All these things are important for any teacher, but especially those who need to tackle ‘difficult’ topics like healthcare for marginalised groups.

“The level of trust we have now developed in Teacup helps us do these things, in themselves excellent teaching tactics, but also to together teach about issues which are inordinately caught up with the personal sense of self. In this way, the transgender ambassadors, teaching staff and students are safe to learn, and to learn well.”

Dr Treharne says he sees the project as a way to stand beside the transgender community and help them to have a voice in education about their healthcare.

“It’s crucial for there to be collaboration between transgender people and cisgender people in education about transgender healthcare. Cisgender teaching staff who took part in our focus group's research really valued being able to discuss what collaborative teaching might look like with transgender ambassadors.”

Denise says it warmed her heart to see this project begin.

“I felt that finally someone else cared.

“Sitting where I am, I’ve seen many suicides because of a lack of support. I hope that this project will help to reduce this.”

Information about support services for transgender people can be found at the website of Gender Minorities Aotearoa. Lifeline New Zealand is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 0800 543 354.