A fertility clinic that’s inclusive of queer and transgender people will be opening in Pittsburgh next year. The facility, which is a partnership between the Allegheny Reproductive Health Center (ARHC) and Mate Fertility, will offer sperm and egg donation, surrogacy services, in vitro fertilization and hormone therapy.
The goal is for the clinic to be up and running by spring of 2024, said Dr. Sheila Ramgopal, who works as an OB-GYN at ARHC, has been serving the LGBTQ+ community and providing gender-affirming care since 2015. ARHC serves western and central Pennsylvania, as well as parts of Ohio and West Virginia.
“For a lot of our clients, they’ve had massive difficulty to access these services, both from an affordability perspective but also from a safety perspective,” Ramgopal said, “even the basics — going into a place where they feel safe and feel like they’re in an inclusive community, because a lot of providers don’t reflect those communities. A lot of the services are actually very tailored for, let’s say, affluent cis white women and heterosexual couples. For the nonbinary and trans community, there’s a massive gap in terms of all of us accessing care for fertility services.”
For trans and nonbinary individuals and couples who need fertility care in the Pittsburgh area, the new clinic will fill a substantial need. The goal is to offer services at one third to one half of the cost of those at other fertility centers, Ramgopal said.
“Our goal is to make this extremely accessible for people no matter where you’re coming from and what your financial picture is,” they added. “We know when we center the folks that aren’t able [to access] these services, everyone then gets the best care.”
Ramgopal and Mate Fertility CEO Traci Keen formed a business partnership a few years ago. They found that they both valued bodily autonomy and reproductive justice in their practices, as well as the desire to center patients most in need of fertility and reproductive services, especially LGBTQ+ and BIPOC communities. Mate’s model differs slightly from other fertility care clinics, Keen said.
“We look at markets that are what we call fertility deserts or underserved markets,” Keen explained. “We try to find OB/GYNs because there’s this huge delta between the number of people in the United States who need access to care and the number of people who geographically have it or can afford that care, even if they do have some access in their market. The only way to start to bridge that gap is to bring OB/GYNs to the top of their license, which they can be doing.”
For queer couples or individuals who want to have an insemination, many fertility clinics require the person in question to undergo a full slate of fertility tests, even if they are not necessarily experiencing infertility.
“How do we tailor our care to serve each individual or each couple for the services that they need, and normalize that in this artificial reproductive care model,” Ramgopal asked rhetorically. “Hopefully this partnership with Mate and our facility would then become the standard that people can utilize to expand their own services in their own facilities.”
Keen broached the subject of the need to provide more targeted reproductive education to different demographics — cishet people as well as queer and trans people. She said that she encounters a lot of cis men who go on testosterone supplements without having first sought out medical counseling about sperm preservation.
“The same is also true for women going on testosterone,” Keen said. “There’s a lot of different things that people aren’t getting educated on. I think that there are some real luminaries in the field right now that do a good job of providing more access to high quality information. What we really want to be is that beacon for people where they can get information that’s tailored and appropriate for them.”
According to the National Center for Trans Equality (NCTE), trans men who have sex with men report a dearth in information about their sexual health at rates up to 93.8%. In addition, 33% of trans people and 48% of trans men delayed or evaded preventive screenings including pelvic exams or STI tests because of concerns that they would be discriminated against or disrespected.
Although the number of LGBTQ+-identified providers at the new fertility clinic is to be determined, Ramgopal has a diverse staff at ARHC, and Keen strives to ensure that there’s “access, awareness and intentionality,” at Mate.
“It’s almost comical how much faith we place in doctors for our care when it’s a very linear, academic approach to education that’s not particularly inclusive of some of the softer things,” Keen added. “I think that as we progress, business models are saying that actually we do need to have these conversations, because it’s about proper treatment and care for people.”