Gender Affirming Care

A Brief Overview

  • Sex and gender are separate, but related concepts.
  • Transgender and gender diverse individuals have special health care needs, but are the most likely to be dissatisfied with their health care or avoid medical care.
  • Gender affirming care is about knowledge and understanding, which can lead to better health care outcomes for individuals who are transgender or gender diverse.

Gender identity has become a hot topic in today’s political world. But beyond the politics, there are many young people that are struggling and often it is their physical and mental health that suffers the most from the misunderstanding between sex and gender, and the meaning of gender affirming care.

What is the difference between sex and gender?

Sex is determined by chromosomes passed down through genetics, with XY being male and XX being female. These chromosomes are responsible for the majority of our sexual-based differences, including genitals and hormones.  Most people are born with either XY or XX but not everyone is.

Gender, on the other hand, is a ‘social construct’ based on an individual’s apparent sex. Gender refers to an expressed societal norm often attached to a person’s sex, so a person with XX chromosomes would be expected to be feminine. For centuries, the English words sex and gender have been used interchangeably, so female and woman meant essentially the same thing.  Modern sociologists and psychologists state that although these terms are tightly bound together, they are not synonyms

Individuals who have a gender in alignment with their biological sex chromosomes are known as cisgender, while those whose gender is different than their biological sex chromosomes are known as transgender. Individuals whose gender does not fit neatly in either category are known as non-binary, genderfluid, or genderqueer, and are often referred to as gender diverse.  Some societies, including several Native American/Native Alaskan communities, recognize a third gender. Two-Spirit is a common term used in many indigenous communities throughout the Americas that encompasses cultural, spiritual, sexual, and gender identity.

What health care issues are there for individuals who are transgender or gender diverse?

Transgender persons are more likely to need some specialized care than their cisgender peers. Healthcare issues that disproportionately effect the trans community include sexually transmitted infections, depression, and substance use. These healthcare issues/needs are not solely due to the person being transgender but due to societal and medical ignorance and/or discrimination. Medical interventions can lessen the impact of these health issues, if an individual can find medical experts that they trust.

Transgender and gender diverse individuals are often more hesitant to go to a doctor because of perceived prejudices or past negative experience with doctors. According to the National Institute of Health, “Transgender men and women had the highest prevalence of being “not at all satisfied” with the healthcare they received.” In another survey, 29.3% of transgender and gender-diverse individuals said that they had experienced health care discrimination, and 21.6% postponed care due to fear of discrimination. This hesitancy to visit medical providers can result in the lack of preventative, and even emergency care, and negatively impact the healthcare and quality of life of transgender and gender diverse individuals.

The belief that medical personnel are not well equipped to deal with transgender patients is also felt by providers. While only around 10% of emergency department trainees surveyed felt uncomfortable treating trans patients, only 55.7% felt well prepared in attending to their transgender patient’s needs. Experts on transgender health believe that the best way to combat prejudice and lack of knowledge is through gender affirming care.

What is gender affirming care?

Despite what some political and media personalities may maintain, gender affirming care is concerned with the entirety of a person who is transgender or gender-diverse and is not wholly focused on hormones and gender-affirming surgeries.

The Standards of Care for the Health of Transgender and Gender Diverse People, Version 8 describes the goals of transgender health care services: “The goal of gender-affirming care is to partner with TGD [Transgender and Gender Diverse]  people to holistically address their social, mental, and medical health needs and well-being while respectfully affirming their gender identity. Gender affirming care supports TGD people across the lifespan—from the very first signs of gender incongruence in childhood through adulthood and into older age—as well as people with concerns and uncertainty about their gender identity, either prior to or after transition.”

What does gender affirming care look like for those under 18?

For most pediatricians, gender affirming care revolves around asking a child’s pronouns, and using those pronouns when talking to them. An awareness of disproportionate health issues, including risks to mental health, is important as well.

In some instances, puberty suppressants or hormones may be given to children or teens, but only after several visits and consultations with psychologists. Gender affirming surgeries are almost never performed on individuals under 18 years old. It is the knowledge and acceptance of a medical professional that makes the health care they provide gender-affirming.

Findings suggest that having a transgender-inclusive provider is associated with decreased rates of depression and suicidality. The Association of American Medical Colleges quotes one physician as stating “‘Most of them are happier, less depressed, and less anxious,’ says Adkins at the Duke Child and Adolescent Gender Care Clinic. “Their schoolwork often improves, their safety often improves.’”

While is illegal in Washington to deny care based on gender identity, it still may be difficult to find a healthcare provider that is transgender friendly. Word of mouth from other individuals who are transgender or gender diverse can be a great start. There is also an online LGBTQ+ Healthcare Directory which can be of assistance.

Additional Resources:

Gender Affirming Medical Coverage Rights – Both state law and the federal Affordable Care Act prevent health insurance companies from discriminating against someone based on their gender identity and related medical conditions. These rights apply to youth and adults.

Lavender Rights Project – Lavender Rights Project elevates the power, autonomy, and leadership of the Black intersex & gender diverse community through intersectional legal and social services

National Center for Lesbian Rights (serves all LGBTQIA+ identities) – NCLR is a national legal organization committed to advancing the civil and human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and their families through litigation, legislation, policy, and public education.

Seattle Children’s Gender Clinic Patient & Family Education – Includes resources for working with Seattle Children’s and general education documents regarding gender affirming care.

Disability and Sexual Health Education

A Brief Overview

  • Sexual education is a legal requirement in Washington State. Read on for information about what the state requires and resources for supporting a child to learn developmentally appropriate information related to health and sexuality.
  • The state provides a Sexual Violence Prevention website page with information about work underway toward the prevention of child sexual abuse.
  • Helping young people talk about sexual consent can support students in learning to make healthy choices that serve them for a lifetime. Rooted in Rights of Washington offers a step-by-step guide for talking about consent with youth with disabilities.
  • May is Sex Ed for All Month. Sex Ed for All Month is an opportunity to raise awareness and call for real investment in sex education in schools and communities across the country. Sex Ed for All Month is coordinated by the Sex Education Collaborative, in collaboration with a national coalition of sexual and reproductive health, rights, and justice organizations committed to ensuring equitable and accessible sex education for all young people nationwide. For resources, visit The Healthy Teen Network
  • For a library of resources, visit the Parent Center Hub: Sexuality Education for Students with Disabilities.

Full Article

Parents or guardians are the first and primary sexual health educators of children. What parents and caregivers believe, say, and do can have a powerful influence on the development of healthy sexuality in children. This article provides resources to support healthy sexuality for families and youth, including standards and instruction that align public schools with state laws.

Washington state law requires schools to provide education about the life-threatening dangers of HIV/AIDS, its transmission, and its prevention. HIV/AIDS prevention education is required to begin by grade 5 and is provided annually, in accordance with the AIDS Omnibus Act (RCW 28A.230.070). The state’s model for providing this education is called the KNOW Curriculum, developed for grades 5-8.

The topic of child sexual abuse prevention is addressed by Erin’s Law (HB 1539), passed by the WA legislature in 2018. The bill named the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) as the lead agency tasked with reviewing curricula and assisting the Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF) with developing a coordinated program for the prevention of child sexual abuse in grades K-12. OSPI provides a Sexual Violence Prevention website page that includes information about work underway.

Inclusive comprehensive sexual health education (CSHE) is required in Washington schools, beginning with the 2022-23 school year. Planning and implementation has been underway since 2020. Instruction must be consistent with Health Education K-12 Learning Standards, which provide a framework for comprehensive instruction, and the provisions of RCW 28A.300.475.

For students in grades 4-12, CSHE is defined in the law as “recurring instruction in human development and reproduction that is medically accurate, age-appropriate and inclusive of all students…using language and strategies that recognize all protected classes.” Disability is a protected class. Therefore, CSHE offered to students in grades 4-12 must be inclusive of disability.

Instruction for students in grades Kindergarten-3 is defined in the law as Social-Emotional Learning. This instruction is not focused on human development or reproduction.

CSHE that addresses consent and provides opportunities for developing communication and decision-making skills can support students in making healthy choices that serve them for a lifetime. Consent is defined as granting permission for something to happen or agreement to do something. Consent is important to understand in the context of sexual activity. Rooted in Rights of Washington provides written information and a video within its step-by-step guide for talking about consent with youth with disabilities.

Dating and sexual intimacy are subjects that can be addressed through Supported Decision Making, a legal option in Washington State. Washington law (Chapter 11.130 in the Revised Code of Washington) includes Supported Decision Making (SDM) as an option under the Uniform Guardianship, Conservatorship, and Other Protective Arrangements Act. The format for an SDM agreement is up to the individual and their supporters. A sample form is available for download from

The state has developed curricula and teaching tools that address the many facets of human relationships, from developing social skills and friendships to assuming responsibility for one’s own body, including sexuality. Find these resources on OSPI’s website page called Sexual Health Education.

The Center for Parent Information and Resources provides a library of resources, including several related to the role of parents: Sexuality Education for Students with Disabilities.