Building a culture of inclusion: Incoming medical student aspires to provide holistic health care for transgender population

Aug 17, 2016, 13:54 PM by KirstiAnn Clifford
Colt and Becca Keo-Meier recently led a workshop on understanding transgender and human sexuality issues in the workplace for UTMB employees and students.
Colt Keo-Meier knows it can be a cruel world for people who don’t conform to societal norms.

As a licensed psychologist and preeminent researcher on transgender health, he sees patients from early childhood to adulthood who struggle with not fitting into traditional gender roles. All too often, suicide seems like the only way out.

“Living in a world that is so unwelcoming makes people not want to stay here,” said Keo-Meier, who earned his doctorate in clinical psychology from the University of Houston. “I even hear younger patients say, ‘Mommy, God made a mistake, I’m not a girl. Can I just go back to Jesus?’”

They’re heartbreaking words to hear from a child—and they’ve fueled Keo-Meier’s passion to save lives. When he starts medical school at UTMB in the fall, he will continue his mission to provide access to well-rounded, competent health care for all people—regardless of whether their gender identity differs from the sex the doctor marked on their birth certificate.

“I want to help to keep this population alive, and in order to do that, they need access to good medical care in addition to behavioral health care,” said Keo-Meier. “My end-goal is to eventually function as a psychologist as well as a family medicine physician. During my time as a psychologist, my experience in research and clinical work with the transgender population has impressed upon me how important the medical side of things are. Once I am trained as a physician, I will be able to provide a much more holistic way of caring for transgender patients throughout their lifespan.”

Keo-Meier’s decision to attend UTMB is both personal and professional. Born at John Sealy Hospital while his mother was an OB–GYN resident at UTMB in 1983, his birth certificate said “female.” But growing up in Beaumont, Texas, and attending Catholic school, he always felt a disconnect between what “the gender others told me I was and the gender I knew myself to be.” It wasn’t until his 20s that he told his parents how he felt. Keo-Meier’s mother, Dr. Pam St. Amand, knew exactly whom to contact.

Dr. Walter Meyer, a professor of Psychiatry and Pediatrics, came to UTMB in 1975 as the chief of Pediatric Endocrinology and has been the Gladys Kempner and R. Lee Kempner Professor of Child Psychiatry since 1992. Because of St. Amand’s residency decades earlier, she knew that Meyer helped run one of the first gender clinics in the state at UTMB in the 1970s. He also served as an advisor to the Rosenberg Clinic in Galveston, which served the transgender community until its recent closure.

St. Amand arranged for Keo-Meier to talk with Meyer and ultimately travel from Houston to Galveston to receive therapy and hormone treatment at the Rosenberg Clinic.

Keo-Meier says he has had many privileges that many other transgender people don’t have: parental support and access to resources. But those privileges have put him in a position to help others and attend medical school at UTMB.

“If you look at all the medical schools in Texas, UTMB was the first medical school to provide any transgender care, and they did so at a comprehensive level, so that’s really important to me,”said Keo-Meier. “If a university is willing to take care of these patients who have a lot of stigma associated with who they are, that’s really meaningful to me.”

Keo-Meier is excited to get started at his new school. He and his spouse, Becca Keo-Meier, recently led a workshop on understanding transgender and human sexuality issues in the workplace for UTMB employees and students. As a co-founder of Gender Infinity—a network of providers and families that offers consultation, clinical services and conferences focused on gender affirmative care—Keo-Meier has been working with UTMB’s Diversity Council to further a culture of inclusion on campus. He hopes to get more health care providers interested in and educated on providing care for a gender-diverse population.

“We need providers to identify themselves and say they are willing to see this population,” said Keo-Meier. “But just because one says that they don’t discriminate doesn’t mean they are equipped to provide competent care—it can be a steep learning curve to know all about hormone therapy, pubertal suppression, the standards of care, etc. But we have to start somewhere and we have to know who is at least willing to learn and to be kind. We can go from there.”

Meyer, who still has patients who drive from all over the state to see him in Galveston, says he’s happy to have Keo-Meier join the UTMB family. Over the years, he’s seen trans care evolve, with more clinics and providers stepping up and making a difference.

“Colt has already accomplished a lot. He’s a very smart person who has some national prominence in his research, so he’ll make a real positive contribution at UTMB and beyond,” said Meyer. “I have no doubt about that.”
CME-accredited online resources enhance patient-centered care and cultural competency

The UTMB Diversity Council Health System sub-committee has been addressing disparities and inclusiveness with emerging patient populations. In fact, UTMB recently achieved “2016 Leader in LGBT Healthcare Equality” status from the Human Rights Campaign and will be featured as an Equality Leader in the Healthcare Equality Index 2016 report. The Healthcare Equality Index is the national LGBT benchmarking tool that evaluates health care facilities’ policies and practices related to the equity and inclusion of their LGBT patients, visitors and employees.

As a participant in the annual index, more than 50 different online, on-demand CME-accredited LGBT training options are free to UTMB staff. The Center for Affiliated Learning will also provide certificate equivalency for CEUs and CNEs upon request.

Visit www.hrc.org/hei-training-on-the-cal for course descriptions and to register.
Use Facility ID Number: 55863, Security Code: HRC

Additional training is available at www.lgbthealtheducation.org/lgbt-education/learning-modules/

Email rfinkels@utmb.edu for more information.