(L to R) Kim Tilson, Caroline Gibbs, Caroline Huffman and Korea Kelly. Photo: Bradley Osborn

Area experts in transgender health have developed a novel six-week psycho-educational program with a central goal of normalizing the transition process for transgender individuals. The program, called “Our Bodies, Our Minds,” will be held from 6:30 to 8 p.m. on Tuesdays, Sept. 10-Oct. 15, at Thrive Health Connection. It is free and open to anyone in the community.

Many transgender people do not have access to the health-care system for various reasons, such as homelessness, the high cost of medical care, and some health-care professionals’ hostility to transgender patients. When trans people do access medical treatment, they often face transphobia. To undergo a medical transition (up to and including gender-confirmation surgery), a diagnosis of gender dysphoria is required, and this diagnosis itself can be stigmatizing.

Thrive Health Connection (formerly Good Samaritan Project) has been a leading AIDS service provider in the Kansas City metro for 35 years. Thrive’s trans-identified clientele has grown in recent years, according to its CEO, Caroline Huffman.

“We are definitely seeing more transgender individuals coming to Thrive Health for care management, as well as for educational interventions and HIV/ STI testing,” she said.

Seeking to broaden the agency’s outreach, Huffman formed a planning group to put together a program to help ease the transition process for transgender individuals.

The planning group’s members are Huffman, Kim Tilson, Caroline Gibbs and Korea Kelly. Each member is connected to one of the collaborative partners in this endeavor: Thrive Health Connection, the LGBTQ Patient Advocacy Program at Truman Medical Centers, Kansas City Anti-Violence Project (KCAVP) and the Transgender Institute.

Kim Tilson is a nurse care manager of wellness and preventive care at Truman Medical Centers. She has served as chair of the Trans Health Inclusion Conference and trained medical staff on LGBTQ health care. She heads up Truman’s LGBTQ Patient Advocacy Program at its Health Sciences campus.

This advocacy program’s services include assistance in finding a primary care physician; assistance in referrals to specialty services, including endocrinology and plastic surgery; and help in accessing community resources. Truman was named a 2018 LGBTQ Healthcare Equality Leader by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation.

Caroline Gibbs is a licensed professional clinical counselor and national certified counselor with 20 years of clinical experience. She is a member of the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, the International Foundation for Gender Education and the American Educational Gender Information Services. She is the founder and director of the Transgender Institute in Kansas City.

The institute is a comprehensive gender therapy and coaching organization dedicated to serving the transgender population. It offers in-office consultation, off-site training, coaching, and therapy sessions, among other services. It is a comprehensive organization, serving children and adults (ages 3 to 83, so far), regardless of gender, ethnicity, race or background.

Korea Kelly is a youth and adult empowerment specialist at the Kansas City Anti-Violence Project (KCAVP). She is a transgender activist and founder of Cavalli Entertainment, which does event programming, pageantry, motivational speakers, watch parties and advocacy. She has worked with KCAVP’s UpLifT, a supportive gathering for the trans community, and she has facilitated healing among trans girls of color amid anti-trans violence.

The Tuesday meeting days for “Our Bodies, Our Minds: The Mental, Physical and Interpersonal Effects of Transition” will coincide with on-site HIV/STI testing. Once registrations are completed, the group will be closed for safety reasons. The minimum age is 18, and participants are expected to attend all six sessions.

The objectives of the project are improved support and well-being for participants and increased access to sexual health information. Here are the topics each session will cover:

Week 1 – Impact of hormonal therapy: Kurt Midyett, pediatric endocrinologist

Week 2 – Protection from HIV and STIs: Maithe Enriquez, nurse practitioner

Week 3 – Dating Panel with Samantha Ruggles (moderator), Korea Kelly, Freddie Dolphas, Suzanne Wheeler and Marsha Riley

Week 4 – Coping and social norms: Ryan Cox, clinical psychologist

Week 5 – Transitioning in the workplace: Suzanne Wheeler and Marsha Riley

Week 6 – Wrap-up and an opportunity to discuss any lingering questions or concerns

The first half of each session will be the educational portion with an expert speaker. The second half will be for reflection and discussion. Cultural humility and health literacy will be paramount. After the presentation, Tilson, Gibbs and Kelly – who are all trans women – will do a facilitator check-in to ensure understanding of the topic. Although the expert portion of each session is an important component of the process, it is the second half where the sharing of knowledge and experiences can come together synergistically.

Organizers hope that this same group format can be used as an incubator to create future content based on the shared wisdom and experience of community members. Currently, no comprehensive guide to every aspect of transitioning exists. This series could be the start to building programming modules for use by others.

Pre- and post-series assessments will be made, as well as presenter evaluations. Organizers hope to engage a college student interested in research methodology to help develop the assessment tools.

To register for the series, contact Caroline Huffman at chuffman@thrivehealthkc.org or 816-561-8784.

Thrive Health Connection (formerly Good Samaritan Project) 5008 Prospect Ave., Kansas City, Mo.


The six-week series is paid for by discretionary funding from the Prime Health Foundation.

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