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Transforming Health
Season 17 | Ep. 2

LGBTQ+ Health

LGBTQ+ individuals may have many of the same health concerns as the general population but experience health challenges at higher rates. Research has shown that a history of discrimination and stigma has contributed to higher rates of mental illness among LGBTQ+ community members. We’ll explore the health concerns for those in the LGBTQ+ community and hear individual stories.

Have you ever felt worried to leave your house for fear of discrimination or worried that a healthcare provider won’t treat you fairly? These are feelings members of the LGBTQ+ community face often.

Even if your parents are accepting, then there’s your extended family. And even if your extended family is accepting, then there’s the rest of the world out there. So, like, wherever you go, you see these little microaggressions or signs in your world that are saying, “We don’t accept you.”

And that can take a toll on people.

And I think it’s just a lack of understanding. A lot of what it comes down to is not being given the time of day to explain who you are as a person.

I have had people come up to me and, you know, show me a Bible and tell me that I’m sinning and that I’m going to go to hell. I’ve had people spit at me before.

People yelling things out when I’m walking to work and people yelling things from across the street or out of cars, or when I walk past, laughing, making comments.


Today, healthcare is about empowering people to take control of their health, whether creating a fitness routine, choosing the right procedures and medications, or adhering to treatment for a chronic condition. Capital Blue Cross — dedicated to underwriting “Transforming Health” for the good health of the community.


WellSpan Health — helping patients reach their health goals through a coordinated system of physicians, hospitals, and convenient healthcare services in communities across central Pennsylvania. Learn more at

Support also comes from viewers like you. Thank you.

Hello, and welcome to “Transforming Health: LGBTQ+ Health.” I’m Keira McGuire.

Over the next half-hour, members of the LGBTQ+ community will share how discrimination and depression has affected their mental health and why it’s so important to find a healthcare provider that’s accepting of how they identify.

Most importantly, we’ll listen as folks share their deeply personal stories of discovery.

Hi. My name is Mary Braasch, and I identify as pansexual and nonbinary, which is a subset of the transgender identity.

Hi. My name is Carmen McKinney. I’m a cisgender female, and I also identify as queer.

Hi. My name is Christa Nelson, and I’m a transgender person.

Hi. My name is Ethan, and I’m a transgender man.

Hi. My name is Chelsea. I realized I was gay when I was about 18.

Hi. My name’s Kamille. I’m a transgender woman.

My name is Janus Stroh. I identify as trans-feminine and nonbinary, and my orientation is pansexual.

Hi. My name is Becky Cox-Davenport. I’m a family nurse practitioner at Alder Health.

It feels amazing to give good-quality care to clients that need it. It feels good every day. It feels like it’s recent. When I talk to people who are outside of the trans community, they’ll say, “This is a new thing. It’s a fad.” And I’ll say, “Well, you know, it’s been around, but nobody had words for it.”

And so, now we have words, and it’s amazingly powerful when you can put words to how you’re feeling and to understand it.

I think it’s super-important to articulate all of these different versions of experience. All these new words that come out, we have words for them now. That means we have a language around this.

So, there’s like a thousand letters that have been added since the original four, LGBT.

Oh, my gosh, there are so many letters. So, we could probably have a poster. But I think the “plus” is the most important part of it, because I think sometimes the letters get intimidating, and you don’t want to leave anybody out.

And so that is the most important part is that you understand that it doesn’t just end at lesbians, bisexuals, gays, and transgender people, that it is more than that and that it is an inclusive. So, the “plus” is the most important part, because it’s that whole queer spectrum of how people identify and being included.

I just like the word “queer” that embodies all of these genders and bodies and sexualities. I think that encompasses all of that as a contrast to heteronormativity. Then you can break it down from there, all these separate identities.

So, we learn more about people and their identities more and more every day. And we add to it. We add to the community.

As soon as we go into LGBTQ+ talk, it goes to sex, which is amazing to me, but it’s really more than sex. It is physical attraction. It’s how you express who you are. There’s so much to it.

Gender identity is how you identify either as male or as female or maybe nonbinary, where neither one of those fit. But you identify maybe different than your assigned sex at birth or your genitals.

Gender expression refers to how someone expresses their gender visibly, maybe their clothes, their hairstyle, the way that they present themselves.

So, if you are going to express as female, maybe you would wear a dress and heels and do your hair in a certain way.

Biological sex is the sex that you’re assigned at birth by medical professionals.

Sexual orientation is who you’re attracted to. So it’s kind of like a compass. It’s like, where is your true north?

I remember being really little and wanting to be “friends” with girls, not really realizing what it really meant until I hit puberty. And I had my first girlfriend at 19, which then I was like, “Oh, duh — obviously.”

As a child, I would play with my mom’s makeup, try on her dresses and heels. I would put shirts on my head and act like they were long, you know, voluminous hair. I was kind of exploring gender before I knew what exploring gender was. All my friends from as young as I can remember were always girls. I wanted to surround myself around femininity. I played with Barbies. I played with dolls. I loved dresses and skirts.

I grew up in New England, which is a very conservative area. So, I didn’t fully know I was gay. I didn’t even really know anybody that was gay. Just being in school and stuff like that, that, you know, I might like women, but, you know, it took me a while to kind of come out and realize it.

There was definitely some kind of feelings that way when I was younger, a lot of not being comfortable in my own skin, a lot of just sort of nitpicking my own body. Why aren’t I allowed to have long hair? Stuff like that. For years, I just didn’t really understand where the feelings came from or what I could do about them because I just didn’t have any exposure.

I just know that I don’t feel like I fit in any of the other boxes specifically.

I started to realize I was trans I want to say when I was like five or six. I really felt off with my identity, but I couldn’t really figure out what it was.

So, I grew up, you know, in the ’70s and ’80s, and I always knew there was something different about me. This whole idea of boyness that I was assigned and expected to be never sort of fit me right. I could do it. But there was always this other aspect of, you know, when I would hang out with my girl cousins, what they were allowed to be, as well, and how they were allowed to express themselves. There was a point where I’m thinking, like, in early high school, am I gay? But I’m not interested in men, but I’ve got this whole variance in sort of how I perceive gender. And there weren’t even these concepts back then. And, you know, this was my biggest, deepest, darkest secret. So, you don’t talk to anybody about it. No one can know this.

But I didn’t really visualize there being another way. I just sort of felt like I had to go along with it. Like, in my late teens, early twenties, I really tried leaning into the more masculine archetype.

I didn’t really get to talk about it with anybody. I was afraid to share with my friends. I definitely didn’t share with my family. My family was very, very much against it at first, especially with my father. He was very much absolutely not. No circumstances would that be okay. So I kind of really internalized it for a few years. But, over the years, as I was a teenager, it started to come up more and more. I had these feelings of something’s wrong. I should be a boy. I started feeling very depressed. I started feeling very anxious. I was constantly stressed out because I had these feelings of not being correct and wanting to fix it and not knowing how and not even knowing what was really going on.

I was dealing with some somewhat severe agoraphobia. I didn’t really like leaving the house. It really felt like something bad was going to happen to me if I left the house. Going to have panic attacks. It was really not a good time. Feeling like I was approaching a point of no return, like if I didn’t make changes soon that I’d lose the chance to do it at all. And that was probably the darkest time for me. There were definitely thoughts of not sticking around.

People would try to — like, therapists, medical professionals, doctors would try to identify and ask me, you know, “Are you doing this for attention?” or “Are you feeling some type of way at home?” A lot of it was just me saying, “I don’t know. I don’t know why I’m doing it. I don’t know why this is happening. I’m just sad. I’m really sad. I’m really depressed, and I’m really lost.” And I lied within that from high school up until basically a couple of months ago.

So, there’s many people who try for years and decades of their life to turn it off, but it’s still there. So, it’s an itch. It’s a feeling. It’s something that is just not right. And I feel so sorry for so many people that have had to live closeted, whichever closet they have — their sexuality, a closet, their gender, a closet, whatever we have that’s closeted.

That’s a horrible feeling.

What’s the quality that you live if you’re not able to live a true, authentic who you are that’s not hurting anybody?

I have dealt with a lot of people who have told me that, you know, it can be changed. You can just stop. But you really can’t. And there’s no way that I can explain it that somebody who isn’t transgender can understand, just the feelings of dysphoria, the constant reminders in your everyday life that you’re not who you want to be. They’re really prevalent.

You can’t change how you feel. But I do think people think that you can just change it. People don’t want to have to go through all the hate. They would rather just be accepted, but then they would not be accepting themselves.

That’s how people end up going back into the closet for 10, 20 years and then later in their life they realize it’s too late. They commit suicide. They struggle with their identity. They struggle with drugs and addiction. And that tends to be what happens when you try to deny those feelings.

I mean, you can only pretend to be somebody that you’re not for so long.

I came out as gay in high school. I was hospitalized twice for suicidal attempts. And I think that had a lot to do with the bullying and my parents’ concern for, like, self-harm. I was cutting. And that all came from kind of feeling lost and not knowing how to navigate my emotions. My first, like, out-of-high-school relationship, I didn’t know what nonbinary was until he told me, kind of not identifying yourself with a gender.

And I really aligned with that.

So, I have been identifying as nonbinary since, like, 2018. Up until, like, months ago, like four months ago, I started  meeting a lot more queer folks and started thinking about trying hormone-replacement therapy. I remember going to groups of people and meetings where there were other trans women and trans-nonbinary folks, and I remember them sharing stories of their childhood and just the similarities between how I was expressing gender unknowingly at such a young age and other people expressed gender similarly. I was kind of blown away.

I had my first girlfriend at 19. My parents weren’t always accepting. Like, they’re accepting now but still not completely. My mental health has been a big roller coaster and a big struggle.

So, I just brought over a girlfriend one day. My grandfather was very much not okay with it, and then he died immediately after. So, I never got any closure with it. I struggled with depression for a really long time. I didn’t seek help for a very long time. I didn’t seek help until last year.

Once I started learning more from the Internet about the way I was feeling and what could be done about it, I started seeking out professional help to begin transitioning. And it’s — it’s why I’m still here. Up till then, I really dealt with a lot of depression, anxiety.

I was living outside of Austin in the ’90s, and we had a yard sale one weekend, and someone shows up, this tall, blond girl, and is looking around. Seems kind of awkward. And then about a month or two later, we get this knock on our door, and it’s the girl from the yard sale.

And she says, “Hi. My name is ‘blank,’ and I’m a transgender person, and I think we might be alike.” And that’s when I realized, “I’m like that.”

[ Laughs ]

That’s when I sort of said, “This is what’s going on. This word ‘transgender’ applies to me.” And I finally had a word to talk about that. It was really liberating. It was this whole, new universe that opened. But it was very difficult, once I maybe figured that out, to try to talk to other people in the world about, try to explain to my parents. There’s a lot of struggles. You know, the first thing that started happening was that things started falling away from my life. I was playing in bands at Austin and doing really well, and they couldn’t play with me anymore. People just started, you know, like not stopping by as often. And eventually, you know, when I would go out, there would be the reactions, and I was kind of just feeling like I want to hide right now. And so I did. I think it’s the day-to-day struggles that really — it grinds you down, and you have to — the biggest challenge is to not get bitter, to not let it get you bitter, because then it’s over, and it won. If you can keep your heart, then you made it.

Age 16 is when I went online. I kind of looked up keywords to what I was feeling and put the connection together that I was transgender, and I kind of had to figure out where I was going to go from there. When I was about 17, I came out at school. I started going by Ethan, he/him pronouns, and I really started to do a social transition to live more as a man. A lot of the therapists I met with, psychiatrists, they didn’t understand what transgender was. They, I guess, hadn’t really met many transgender people before. So, they weren’t sure how to properly address me, how to deal with things. They were trying to diagnose me with other disorders to try to explain why I had a trans identity, which of course didn’t help at all. So, it really pushed me away from seeking mental healthcare.

I went to my family doctor and told him, “You know, I want to start hormones. I think I’m a woman.” And he basically said, “There’s no place like that that exists. There are no resources that I can offer to you. You’re just going to have to live with what this is.” And then I was referred to a therapist that specialized specifically in reverting thoughts like that.

I feel like stigma has a continued presence, and it’s going to continue to be here for a long time.

It’s coming from our deeply held cultural beliefs about what we do and what we don’t do.

And I think it’s just a lack of understanding. A lot of what it comes down to is not being given the time of day to explain who you are as a person.

But even if your parents are accepting, then there’s your extended family. And even if your extended family is accepting, then there’s the rest of the world out there. So, like, wherever you go, you see these little microaggressions or signs in your world that are saying, “We don’t accept you.”

And that can take a toll on people.

I’ve been called a lot of slurs. Most of the time it doesn’t affect me. But, you know, there’s days where, like, you have seven people tell you, you know, the F-word or, you know, that you’re going to burn in hell, lots of stuff. It isn’t the best for your mental health when you’re just trying to live your life, and you’re ostracized just for loving another person.

People yelling things out when I’m walking to work, and people yelling things from across the street or out of cars or when I walk past, laughing, making comments. Yeah, absolutely, and in medical settings, at work. It felt like it just never stops sometimes, from, like, the moment I would walk out my apartment-building door till I get back in to lock myself in my apartment again at night, where it’s safe.

It’s not as bad today.

People seem to read me as female. It’s hard to lose when you carry that with you for so long, this feeling that I’m a Frankenstein monster and that people are going to just scream because of you, and people that you’re sitting across from thinks that you’re, you know, revolting and horrible and degenerate. That perspective has been hard to let go of  because you internalize that.

That’s been a big challenge of mine, like the past ten years, maybe, is trying to just let all that go, get rid of all of that.

And I don’t know where it comes from. We could have a whole special on why people are so angry and why people hate and just can’t live and let live, because if it’s not hurting you, why do you care? I don’t know.

I don’t know.

I just think about the suffering that has happened over the many years, decades and millennia of people that have to live in oppression, live a closeted life. And I would not want that for anybody. And how that eventually manifests in physical illness and mental illness, I don’t know why people care.

I wish they cared more to think about a suicidal trans kid and really cared about them than whatever that trans person makes you feel. It doesn’t…

Anyway, I don’t understand it.

We’re all just human beings. And trans people are human beings like you. We have different ways of understanding and experiencing gender, sexuality, identity than the straight world. But at the end of the day, we get up, we eat, we go to sleep, just like everyone else.

I think life is good today.

I’m feeling good today.

I’m listening to my heart and following my intuition.

This is the first time in five months that I haven’t had any suicidal thoughts. Recently I came out as bisexual because I do like both men and women. I’ve been in a monogamous relationship with a man for the first time in, like, a really long time. So, that’s been a little weird, and I’ve been generally happy almost every day. The only thing that I kind of struggle with is anxiety still, but that I feel like is just going to be a part of my life until the day I die. But I’m really happy right now.

Since starting hormones as an adult, the best way I can describe it is like the “dust in the attic” — the attic being my head — has kind of just cleared, and everything is clear now. I can see a path to where I’d like to go.

I think that getting that first prescription was one of the happiest moments of my life. So I was able to start medically transitioning along with my social transition. But I knew it was going to change my life because it was what I wanted for so long. I could outwardly look the way that I want to present. For the first time in a while, I was actually thinking about my future in a positive way.

A lot of LGBT people, especially trans people, don’t see a future for themselves.

I mean, I now know that a million different things can change, even when you’re not expecting them. It can always be something that comes over the horizon, that has a new opportunity to become more of who you really are. It’s always worth waiting for that opportunity.

I think if I had the opportunity to go back and say as a kid, you know, “I think my assigned gender at birth is not aligned with who I really am,” I definitely would have at a much younger age.

If 16-year-old Ethan saw who he became and the man he is now, he would be blown away and so happy for the future.

I think if you’re feeling some way about your identity that you should follow it, no matter what. Don’t listen to other people.

For anybody out there who’s having trouble or thinking about it, going through a transition or going through being more of their authentic self, it’s worth it. Even if it’s hard, it’s always better than giving up or not trying.

I’d like to thank all of our guests for sharing their stories so openly.

If you’d like to learn more about LGBTQ+ health, head to our website,

And, as always, you can stream past episodes of “Transforming Health” on demand through the PBS video app.

Please join us next time as we continue to share stories and transform health.

I’m Keira McGuire.

Thanks for watching.

Today, healthcare is about empowering people to take control of their health, whether creating a fitness routine, choosing the right procedures and medications, or adhering to treatment for a chronic condition.

Capital Blue Cross — dedicated to underwriting “Transforming Health” for the good health of the community.


WellSpan Health — helping patients reach their health goals through a coordinated system of physicians, hospitals, and convenient healthcare services in communities across central Pennsylvania. Learn more at

Support also comes from viewers like you.

Thank you.



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Keira McGuire
Keira McGuire

Keira McGuire is a health reporter and multimedia producer for WITF. She hosts and produces Transforming Health television programs as well as other shows and documentaries for WITF’s Original Productions. McGuire produced the Emmy Award winning series HealthSmart for the last ten years. Keira previously worked at WBFF in Baltimore and WMDT in Salisbury as a reporter and anchor. She’s a graduate of Towson University.

Read more by Keira McGuire