Alums Modernize Gender-Affirming Healthcare


“Dr. Weimer is someone who I admire in basically everything she does,” says UCLA medical student Lane Kantor. Although Kantor (who uses they/them pronouns) and fellow Lakeside graduate Dr. Amy Weimer graduated from the school many years apart, the two followed similar paths after Lakeside, both attending Brown University, studying neuroscience, and pursuing careers in gender-affirming healthcare at UCLA. Kantor first reached out to Dr. Weimer the summer before beginning medical school with the intention of looking into trans health work. “All roads led back to Dr. Weimer,” they say. Since then, she has been a mentor and collaborator to them. 

The two are involved in the UCLA Gender Health Program, which Dr. Weimer co-founded in 2016. The issue of surgeries and hormone replacement has been hotly debated, especially in the case of transgender youth, but Kantor and Dr. Weimer’s work aims to provide general healthcare to gender-diverse individuals. “There is so much more to taking care of trans people than just clinical knowledge,” says Kantor. Between the practices specific to trans people, the effects these can have on other interventions, and the mistrust many of them can harbor towards the system, the importance of having healthcare providers be informed and supportive of their patients’ identities is paramount, especially considering the harm that has been caused to the trans community in the past.

The field of medicine has a history of harbouring some hostility towards gender-diverse people. Being transgender was not officially recognised until the addition of “transsexuality” — now considered an outdated term, but still used by many members of the community — to the DSM-III, a diagnostic manual for mental disorders, in 1980. Classified then under “psychosexual disorders,” the diagnosis only served to pathologise the identity. Later editions changed the term to “gender identity disorder” in 2013, then “gender dysphoria.” This newest update is a marked improvement, but still mischaracterises the issue as its own condition rather than tracing gender dysphoria back to its root cause.

There’s no other way to describe [gender-affirming healthcare programs] than to say that they’re life-saving.”

— Dr. Amy Weimer

In a way, the typicality of this ignorance is understandable. The understanding of why assigned sex and gender sometimes misalign is still incomplete and largely subjective. Kantor recalls how their focus pivoted from neurobiology to social and institutional sources of oppression as their interest in the subject increased. 

However, the limited information popularly available to currently practicing doctors at the time they were studying and the continuing relative sparsity of it makes receiving care a gamble for gender-diverse people. A study in the Annals of Family Medicine reported that only 69% of physicians surveyed felt sufficiently equipped to treat transgender patients, and half of respondents attested to having had to inform a healthcare provider about transgender topics. In the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, nearly one in five respondents recall being refused care entirely. Gender-affirming healthcare programs seek to bypass the biases against transgender people and improve the quality of care for a group that has long been neglected in such spheres. “There’s no other way to describe them than to say that they’re life-saving,” Dr. Weimer says.

Recently, Dr. Weimer and Kantor worked together on changing UCLA’s electronic medical records to reflect the gender identity of gender-diverse patients. On top of making the experience of receiving care more comfortable for people on file, the changes also address genuine safety concerns for trans people. For example, those who have received top surgery to remove breast tissue and others who have taken estrogen to feminise their bodies for a certain amount of time both need to be screened for breast cancer, vital information which might not be apparent without a gender-affirming system. 

For the foreseeable future, both Kantor and Dr. Weimer will continue to work towards greater gender equity in medicine. Despite the challenges yet to be overcome, the quality of systems in place is improving by leaps and bounds. Medical transitioning has become much lower-risk and better understood over the past decades, new legislation has served to protected transgender people from discrimination, and thanks to the work of those like Kantor and Dr. Weimer, clinics are becoming places where members of this community can feel safer and more respected. Addressing trans and gender-diverse students at Lakeside, Dr. Weimer said, “I am exceptionally optimistic about your future.” Kantor echoed the sentiment: “There are so many people around and in the broader community who understand those experiences, and if you haven’t found them yet, you can make the community and be that for somebody else.” Kantor said, “If you ever feel like there aren’t that many of you, wait for college.”