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Gender-affirming care expands in New Jersey



Though at least 22 states have restricted LGBTQ+-related health care this year, such provisions are protected under New Jersey law

With hopes of providing proper LGBTQ+ healthcare in New Jersey, Robert Wood Johnson’s Babs Siperstein PROUD Center began operating one night a week in 2017 — but has now blossomed into a fully-functional medical clinic, catering to almost 2,000 patients.

The center was named in honor of Babs Siperstein, a leading advocate for LGBTQ+ rights in New Jersey. PROUD stands for Promoting Respect, Outreach, Understanding and Dignity, which highlights the organization’s stance about its services. These include hormone therapy and monitoring, health education and counseling, and HIV prevention (PrEP and PEP) to adults of all backgrounds and identities (RWJ Barnabas Health).

Gender affirming care has become an immensely political subject in the United States. It particularly draws opposition from Republican states with more conservative ideologies.

According to a map issued by the Human Right Campaign in 2024, 22 states have passed laws or policies banning gender-affirming care up to age 18. The campaign’s website says that “some states, such as Oklahoma, Texas, and South Carolina, have considered banning care for transgender people up to 26 years of age” (Human Right Campaign).

Gender affirming care is age-appropriate care that is medically necessary for the well-being of many transgender and non-binary people who experience gender dysphoria, or distress that results from having their gender identity not match their sex assigned at birth. Clinic director Sean Patrick Riley emphasized in an interview how such limitations are mainly enforced by corrupt politicians and government bodies, as opposed to licensed health care providers, because they know gender-affirming care is safe. By preventing doctors from providing gender-affirming care, these bills block transgender people from accessing medically necessary, safe health care backed by decades of research and supported by major medical associations.

On a more positive note, New Jersey legally protects gender-affirming care.

“Transgender care grows in New Jersey,” an article published in NJ Spotlight stated, “to protect the care options in New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat halfway through his second four- year term, signed an executive order in April to ensure people of all ages can access surgery, hormone treatments, mental health supports and other gender-affirming care. Under his directive — which could be reversed by future governors — these rights extend to people traveling here from out of state, including those who would be barred from treatment in their home state. It also seeks to protect state officials and health care providers from legal actions prompted by other states that have blocked gender-affirming care for their residents.” (Stainton 2023). Because of this privilege in New Jersey, organizations, like the PROUD Center, can provide adequate specialized healthcare to LBGTQ+ individuals. Sean Patrick Reilly stated, “the idea for the clinic came out of the PRIDE BRG,” which is RWJ’s LGBTQ+ business resource group; they saw a need for tailored medical services for their community, and the PROUD Center began.

The health care providers at the PROUD Center are well educated and genuine, as they prioritize the safety of their patients. When asked about their basic protocol with patients, one nurse, Jamila C., answered, “We want to make sure that our patients feel seen and welcome. It’s a family once they walk through this door, and we just want them to feel that initially and throughout their experience at PROUD.”

Every member at the center recognizes the unique medical needs of the LGBTQIA+ community and is dedicated to offering high-quality, culturally competent care. Jamila added that they understand, respect, and guide anyone’s journey, whether they’re in their “mid-twenties or almost eighty years old.” It’s a judgment-free haven for patients who might feel discomfort in their gender identity.

Entering the PROUD Center feels different from entering most typical medical facilities. The walls and reception area are decorated with pride flags and other rainbow elements. The sheer amount of value and effort the PROUD Center dedicates to promoting inclusivity instantly creates a comforting space for patient care.

The organization not only expresses its values inside the clinic, but is engaged in advocacy projects across New Jersey as well. Sean Patrick Riley stated: “We have patient navigators, who are employed here, and they help us with outreach. Different organizations within the state of New Jersey come to us, and then we will provide sensitivity training regarding LGBTQIA+ information and how to handle onboarding and sensitivity training specifically. We also help with sensitivity training within RWJ, so like within our system, and any other healthcare system, or if anyone else has questions for us then we can we are a resource for them as well. We just had a coat drive, like a winter community coat drive. We have support groups, including transgender and gender-diverse individual support groups. We have pre and postoperative support groups for patients that are all directed by people who work and volunteer with the PROUD Center. We’ll also do tabling, so we go to events like different town’s pride events. June is extraordinarily busy. And just presence and awareness. We put ourselves in the community that we serve, and we talk to people and tell them what we offer, what we can do, why it’s needed, and to come see us. I also do a lot of advocacy work. I do presentations, I do interviews. I just had one the other day that was a presentation on HIV prevention, Prep and PEP, for World AIDS Day on December 1st. We had community symposiums in September, where we talked about some of the challenges and again places where we could see some improvements as it comes to providing comprehensive health care and wrap around health services for LGBTQ+ members.

Due to the PROUD Center’s immense contributions to both healthcare and advocacy, RWJ developed a blog about the organization, in which the National Association of Social Workers – NJ Chapter (NASW-NJ) recognized PROUD as its Organization of the Year. The blog stated, “We are delighted to recognize The Babs Siperstein PROUD Center for its forward-thinking work in meeting the needs of unique and underserved populations,” said Jennifer Thompson, MSW, Executive Director of NASW-NJ. “Rather than scale back services in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Center increased its client base to more than 1,000 individuals in need. While the LGBTQIA+ community is under attack in many spaces, the PROUD Center is leading the charge to ensure they receive the care and support they need to survive and thrive” (RWJ Barnabas Health).

Although the PROUD Center conducts honorable services for the LGBTQIA+ community, it also experiences homophobic and transphobic hate for the work it does.

Perry Farhat, the Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, immediately emphasized the importance of keeping the staff safe by not using their full names, or showing their faces in our video interview, because of hateful phone call, emails, and remarks they frequently receive. Nurse Jamila C. admits to the discrimination they experience but overcomes it by stating, “We don’t give too much energy to those who oppose what we do because we understand that what we’re doing in the office for our patients is life changing.” She also talks about the need for formal education of LGBTQ+ issues and ideologies to prevent bigotry in the future. Her positive, intelligent mindset proves the services at the PROUD Center are genuine and exceptional as the controversy surrounding gender-affirming care does not stop them from helping LGBTQIA+ members feel safe and comfortable in their own bodies.

Because the PROUD Center is a reasonably new clinic for gender affirming care, it strives to achieve improvements in gender-affirming medical care and its accessibility.

“Right now we’re viewed as a specialty, and I think that that’s a shame,” Riley stated. “Transgender and gender-diverse individuals, as well as members of the LGBTQ+ community, are just people. My hope would be that we could incorporate some of the tenets of what we do here into medical training for medical students.”

In other words, Riley believes finding excellent gender-affirming care is rare, but that it should be a common offering at all healthcare facilities. All doctors should have the basic education to help someone with gender identity issues. LGBTQ+ healthcare should not have to be divided from all other types of healthcare. In this case, anyone experiencing gender dysphoria can go anywhere to be provided with hormone treatment, or other forms of appropriate medical care. Even though gender- affirming care is a contentious topic, Riley’s goal can be achieved. An article from the Association of American Medical Colleges, called “Meeting the Demand for Better Transgender Care,” states “According to the most recent AAMC Curriculum Inventory data collected from 131 U.S. medical schools, more than 65% offer some level of transgender- related education, and more than 80% of those who provide such content do so in required courses” (Krisberg). Clearly, the future of gender-affirming care is strong as advancing education will not only supply a higher number of trained gender-affirming care doctors but will ensure gender affirming care is a safe practice for people of all ages, identities, and backgrounds.

Work Cited

“Attacks on Gender Affirming Care by State Map.” Human Rights Campaign, Accessed 10 Dec. 2023.

“Babs Siperstein Proud Center for LGBTQIA Health: Somerset NJ.” RWJBarnabas Health, center/. Accessed 5 Nov. 2023.

“Babs Siperstein Proud Center Recognized by NASW-NJ as Organization of the Year.”
RWJBarnabas Health,
recognized-by-nasw-/. Accessed 10 Dec. 2023.

“Babs Siperstein PROUD Center Virtual Tour .” YouTube, YouTube, 7 June 2022, Accessed 10 Nov. 2023.

Krisberg, Kim, et al. “Meeting the Demand for Better Transgender Care.” AAMC, 10 Apr. 2018,

Stainton, Lilo H. “Transgender Care in New Jersey – NJ Spotlight News.” NJ Spotlight News , 26
Sept. 2023, delivered-in-nj-as-demand-grows/

About the Author

Ell J. Bernieri, Nidhi Shah, Kevin Bobrowski, Emily R. Steele and Chris E. Niamke

Professor: Marisa Holmes
Class: Media and Social Change