There is an effort underway to reach out to the transgender community and improve its health and safety.
COLUMBUS, Ohio - "The Transgender Tipping Point"- it was the focus of a recent "Time" magazine cover, calling it America’s next civil rights frontier.
And here in Columbus, there is an effort underway to reach out to the transgender community and improve its health and safety.
From the outside looking in, Heather Caminiti was a cheerful, happy little girl. Behind the sweet smile of a 4 year old was a world of turmoil.
"I look at that and I think ‘God, I was such a sad kid. And I really remember being so disgusted and so upset about having to wear a dress.”
That’s because despite all outward appearances, Heather knew very early on that “she” was actually a “he”.
"It was confusing to me- why are people calling me by this female name and having me wear these girls clothes and use the girls restroom?"
It was a lonely, bewildering existence that no one else seemed to understand.
"Feeling that you’re a freak, you know? That you’re not, almost that you’re inhuman. You’re not similar to other people. And although I may have struggles that were different from others, I’m human. I cry and laugh just like everybody else. And I think the loneliness and sadness, and feeling hopeless at such a young age- four years old- at one point people called me ‘it’ in junior high."
Even a psychologist was no help.
"I finally came out and said, ‘I feel male.’ Even though I was born a female, I’ve felt this was since I was a kid. And he said, ‘You couldn’t possibly know that at this age. You should go out an experiment.’ I don’t know what that means, should I get a lab coat and beakers? So, I was devastated by that. It was just a horrible feeling."
"These are things we need to talk about, we need to address, and we need to fix," said Dwayne Steward with the Columbus Public Health Department.
CPH has launched an initiative, focused on decreasing disparities in care for the LGBT community. Statistics provided by Columbus Public Health are alarming: One in five transgender people in Ohio say they’ve been refused medical care due to their gender identity.
Nearly, a third postpone needed medical care when they are sick or hurt due to discrimination
And 44 percent of Ohioans who identify as transgender report attempting suicide - that’s 27 times the rate of the general population.
"There are a lot of factors contributing to this, that definitely includes discrimination, misunderstanding when it comes to transgender populations. there’s a lot of education i think needs to be done," said Steward.
Today, Heather is Mason, a happy, healthy transgender man, his appearance and identity no longer at odds. And now his smile is very real.
"A huge sense of relief, that I was finally going to live the truth of my life and be who I always thought I was," he said.
Columbus Public Health is hosting a forum Thursday night on health care and the transgender community.
READ: More information from Columbus Public Health