SPECtrum Helps SUNY Optometry, University Eye Center Provide Better Care for Transgender Patients

June 3, 2019

Barbara Salva, a transgender advocate, and Elle Huertas, community educator for the LGBT Network, April 22, 2019.
Barbara Salva, a transgender advocate, and Elle Huertas, community educator for The LGBT Network, SUNY Optometry, April 22, 2019.

In the leadup to the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising, the student group works to improve patient care for the LGBTQ community.

In 2016, SUNY Optometry committed to the Diversity and Inclusion Master Plan, which was created to support a “learning and working environment built on understanding, acceptance, respect and valuing the beliefs of other cultures, religions and identities.” In service of that mission, student group SPECtrum offers a safe space and resources for members of the LGBTQ community and seeks to educate the College community around the full spectrum of human gender and sexuality.

Founded by 2019 alumnus Dr. Brandon Harnos and faculty advisor Dr. Michael McGovern in 2016, SPECtrum is billed as the nation’s first LGBTQ club housed at an independent college of optometry.

On April 22, the group hosted The Transgender Patient: Informed, Effective and Respectful Communication, a lunch and learn designed to help students and providers offer better care for transgender patients. Participants learned terminology surrounding gender identity, gender expression and assigned sex and heard from speakers who talked about best practices for working with the trans population.

Dr. McGovern, who is also the chief medical officer for the University Eye Center, says the forward-looking program was inspired by a historic event. “This year’s Pride month is noteworthy as it is the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising, one of the major historic events that started the movement for LGBTQ rights. This was one of the main considerations that inspired us to conduct this program at this time,” he said.

Transgender advocate Barbara Salva, a board member for Gender Equality New York and chair of the Long Island Transgender Day of Remembrance Committee, was excited to speak at SUNY Optometry. “I jumped at the chance to connect to doctors who will possibly be in contact with trans people so they can understand them and treat them with respect as every human being should be treated,” she said.

Ms. Salva believes caring for transgender patients really should not differ from caring for cisgender patients. “The first sentence that came out of my mouth at the College was that the main thing transgender people want is respect, just like everyone else. Regardless of whether you understand or even agree, respect is what we’re looking for. Understanding certainly helps, that’s why I do what I do,” she added.

Elle Huertas, community educator for The LGBT Network’s Queens LGBT Center, said it is important to consider the space transgender people occupy. “The LGBT community can exclude or overlook transgender and gender nonconforming people. By standing in solidarity and also doing the work to spread awareness to others, it can stop the bias and discrimination that harms the trans community,” she said. “We have to challenge learned ideologies and make space for the trans community and other marginalized communities to be visible and to be heard especially when it comes to their health.”

The event is just one of many initiatives underway to make the College more inclusive. All University Eye Center staffers have attended diversity training that included information on effectively and respectfully communicating with LGBTQ patients. Intake forms now make it easy for patients to communicate their preferred pronouns and all current construction projects include gender-neutral bathrooms. Members of SPECtrum have also done outreach at the Ali Forney Center, which serves LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness.

It is work Dr. McGovern is proud to do. “It is extremely important and rewarding for me to be a part of SPECtrum,” he says. “I value the sense of community it provides to LGBTQ members of our College family, and it affords us a platform to help educate our faculty, students and staff, and serve as a resource on LGBTQ-related matters.”

Media Contact: Amber E. Hopkins Tingle, 212.938.5607, amber@sunyopt.edu