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Alberta trans activists call for review of GRS funding cuts

Rally coincided with start of legislature's fall session

SPEAKING UP. Trans activist Jan Buterman spoke at the Oct 26 rally at the Alberta legislature. Credit: Ted Kerr photo

As the Alberta legislature reconvened for its fall session on Monday, trans activists called on the government to reinstate gender reassignment surgery (GRS) funding.

MLAs were presented with letters from members of the Trans Equality Society of Alberta (TESA). The letters request that the Minister’s Advisory Committee on Health review the GRS funding cuts made in the April 2009 provincial budget. Over 100 people gathered at the legislature to show their support.

TESA members say the cuts were made without consulting medical professionals or any of the people directly affected by the decision. Mercedes Allen, one of the event’s organizers, says she is “confident that all Albertans would want to have a careful and thorough study done of any cut under consideration or review.”

The government says it formed the health advisory committee to find “a new way to define publicly funded health services,” but critics say the committee’s real purpose is to make deep cuts and delist more health services. Still, trans activists say the committee should review the GRS cuts.

“Being equal should be more than artificial sweetness with no substantive nutritional value,” said Jan Buterman in his speech at the gathering.

However, as Alberta faces a multi-billion dollar deficit this year, the government doesn’t seem willing to budge. Finance Minister Iris Evans told the Edmonton Sun that she doubts there will be a review of GRS funding, saying that the decision was a cost-cutting move that will save the province $700,000 a year. That amount paid for between 10 and 20 surgeries each year.

That money represents more than just surgeries, says Garrick Burron, a co-founder of the Edmonton-based Queer Allied Network. “It represents peoples lives. GRS is quite simply a matter of life and death for the individuals requiring it.” Burron believes the government is obligated to re-examine this cut and inevitably re-instate GRS funding as, “it is the duty of government to provide medically necessary procedures to its citizens.”

– with files from Ted Kerr