All across Canada, queer activists who fight for trans rights are venting their frustration about the Manitoba NDP government’s decision to reject funding for sex reassignment surgeries.
“I’m terribly disappointed,” says Catherine Taylor, who authored a 2006 report on trans issues in Manitoba called Nowhere Near Enough. “I would hope for more from the NDP.”
“Politicians, more frequently than not, don’t understand trans health and the importance of medical intervention in our lives,” adds Susan Gapka, chair of the Rainbow Health Network’s trans health lobby group.
Last week, Xtra.ca reported that Manitoba’s NDP government quietly rejected a proposal to fully fund sex reassignment surgeries. The decision comes just one month after Alberta’s Conservative government delisted trans surgeries in its budget.
Manitoba’s Minister of Healthy Living, Kerri Irvin-Ross, suggests tough times are to blame. But with the province’s economy chugging along better than most others in the country, many people aren’t buying it.
“That argument doesn’t wash,” says Mickey Wilson, chair of Egale Canada’s trans committee. “Manitoba has one of the few economies that’s not expected to have a downturn.”
Besides, he adds, “it’s not a lot of money” to fund trans surgeries. In Wilson’s home province of Alberta, activists calculated the cost at 19 cents per taxpayer. “We’re talking pennies in the larger scheme of things.”
Jennifer Davis, project coordinator for Nowhere Near Enough, believes the long-term costs of refusing medical treatment for gender identity disorder — including mental illness and subsequent social problems — are higher than the short-term costs of paying for surgeries. “This government of all governments should know that,” she says.
As a social worker, Davis meets regularly with a Winnipeg group called the Transgender Network Group. “There’s lots of support for people who have other ailments,” she says. “But people don’t think of [gender identity disorder] as an ailment.”
The co-chair of the federal NDP’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans committee, Micheline Montreuil, is upset, too. “The NDP is supposed to defend the rights of LGBT people,” she says.
The next step, she feels, is simple: “Fight,” she says. “If you don’t say anything then the government thinks you’re happy.”
Taylor and Davis agree. “The truth is, LGBT funding needs are never on top of any government’s priority list,” says Taylor, a professor at the University of Winnipeg. “The time has come for people to get organized to do something.”
Davis encourages trans people and their supporters to contact Manitoba politicians and make their voices heard. “Keep your hopes up and keep communicating,” she says.
Gapka, who helped lead the successful campaign to reinstate sex reassignment surgery in Ontario, says trans people should go even further and meet their MLAs in person. “Quite often,” she says, “people can be moved when they see how difficult it is to be trans.”
Some activists are reluctant to put their views about the Manitoba government on the record. They suggest that the province’s Minister of Healthy Living, Kerri Irvin-Ross, is working on an alternative plan and deserves time to quietly push it to her cabinet colleagues.
One of the activists that Xtra.ca called for comment, Trevor Corneil, initially criticized the government’s decision. But half an hour later, the president-elect of the Canadian Professional Association for Transgender Health emailed to say he didn’t want his comments used. “To comment just now will undermine efforts being made by CPATH members and others to effect change.”
Xtra.ca’s original article about this issue was posted to a Facebook group on trans issues in Alberta, but subsequently removed. The group’s moderator emailed to say, “I’m being told that there is some discussion continuing there and a concern that negative reactions generated by that article could somehow jeopardize that.”
So what’s going on?
The other co-chair of the federal NDP’s LGBT committee, Matthew McLauchlin, shed some light on the issue — but not much.
“I’ve had some talk with a few MLAs,” he said. “A lot of people are working very hard to extend coverage. These things don’t happen overnight.”
Still, he doesn’t think it hurts for people to comment publicly. “I think anything that raises the importance of trans issues is worth talking about.“