National Transgender Health Summit Experiences

This blog is guest authored by Rachel L. Kaplan, PhD, MPH.

Many thanks to Jordan Blaza for this opportunity to share some thoughts on my experience at the 2013 National Transgender Health Summit (NTHS). The NTHS was held in Oakland, California on May 17th and 18th. Cosponsored by the UCSF Center of Excellence for Transgender Health and the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, the conference aimed to “provide a multidisciplinary program presenting cutting edge research in transgender health and evidence-based clinical training curricula for healthcare providers of all backgrounds.” The program was comprised of four tracks that were chaired by experts in the field: Research Track (Jae Sevelius, PhD), Medical Training Track (Madeline Deutsch, MD), Mental Health Track (Lin Fraser, EdD, MFT and Dan Karasic, MD), and Health Policy Institute (Kellan Baker, MPH, Masen Davis, MSW, and Jamison Green, PhD). A sure sign of the potential for a great conference is the inability to choose between equally promising sessions and events. It was difficult to decide with so many interesting, relevant, and engaging topics.

The NTHS did not disappoint. Because of my work and interests, most of the sessions I attended were within one of the Research Tracks. It was a pleasure to learn with some of the leading experts in the field about the challenges and successes in topics such as methodological considerations, recruitment strategies, and measurement decisions. Speakers and audience members discussed the pros and cons of terminology such as “natal sex” and “sex assigned at birth” as well as the decisions about gender categories and what it means to include “additional category” versus “other.” Researchers also discussed in which context(s) the term “transgender” is used as a gender category and in which context(s) the term is used as a social group and the methodological and measurement implications these different contexts present.

Overall, the atmosphere at the NTHS was both serious and celebratory. Many of the plenary speakers reminded the audience about the uniqueness of the opportunity to share a space with many like-minded colleagues within this specialized community. The world-renowned speakers’ messages were both sobering and inspiring. A lot has been accomplished and there is still so much to do. As an international public health social scientist, I was grateful that although the focus of the National Summit was on US-based transgender health, some discussion addressed the challenges and needs that exist abroad. One of the most meaningful highlights of the NTHS for me was the chance to reconnect with friends and colleagues and to meet experts in the field with whom I had only previously dialogued via phone or email. Finally, it was an excellent opportunity to hear about the incredible work that is being done in the field to address the health disparities and access challenges within the transgender community.

Rachel L. Kaplan, PhD, MPH ( is an international health researcher whose work is based in the Middle East and North Africa region. Primarily a qualitative researcher, Dr. Kaplan is interested in most-at-risk and hard-to-reach populations and the intersections of gender, culture, sexuality, conflict, and risk.

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