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Circling the Dome

Helping Transgender Children and Youth

blue, pink, and white chalk arranged in the fashion of the trangender pride flag

Children who are transgender typically know at a young age that their physical appearance doesn’t match their gender identity. It may be a while before they can do anything about it, though. They’re not eligible for surgery until they’re 18 and generally can’t get hormonal therapy under the age of 16, and then only with parental permission.

A new clinic at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center is providing patients and their families with crucial information and support services.

The Emerge Gender and Sexuality Clinic for Children, Adolescents and Young Adults is part of a recent expansion of services at Johns Hopkins for patients who are transgender or don’t identify as either male or female. The Center for Transgender Health opened in 2017.

Adolescent medicine specialists Renata Sanders and Errol Fields were already treating transgender adolescents and young adults as part of their practices when they launched Emerge. “It serves patients as old as 25 and as young as 6,” says Sanders.

Nationwide, very few pediatric gender clinics exist, and even fewer provide the in-depth multidisciplinary care offered by Emerge, they say.

The numbers attest to the pent-up demand. In its first year, Emerge had 116 referrals, provided care to 85 patients and referred 11 patients who are 18 years and older for surgery at the Johns Hopkins Center for Transgender Health, says Kathy Tomaszewski, nurse coordinator for the clinic.

“We have found that patients have been incredibly happy to find us,” says Fields. “For many, they have been on a long search to find a health care space where they will be affirmed and their gender health needs will be met.”  

The Emerge team includes adolescent medicine specialists, psychologists, social workers and nurses. Sanders and Fields provide various kinds of hormone therapy, including hormones that block puberty, when indicated. Pediatric endocrinologists are available to review complex cases and provide referrals for more specialized hormone therapy if necessary.

Emerge works with child and adolescent psychiatry for patients with comorbid mental health concerns—important because transgender youth have higher rates of suicide, depression and anxiety than the general adolescent population.

“Supporting transgender and gender nonbinary youth with counseling to help them thrive through this process is our ultimate goal,” says adolescent clinical psychologist Kathryn Van Eck. “I am honored to be a part of a team doing just that.”

Read more about transgender health care at Johns Hopkins: