2 min

Clinic closing ‘a disaster’

Gender clinic vital for transgendered care

Credit: Joshua Goldberg

Trans people in BC are losing access to the medical care they need as the only Canadian gender clinic west of Toronto phases itself out of existence.

The clinic’s closure is just the latest casualty in the BC Liberals’ health care cuts. Director Ron Stevenson says budget cuts at the Vancouver Hospital eliminated too many key personnel at the clinic-making comprehensive care for hormone treatments and sex reassignment surgery (SRS) impossible.

That’s why the clinic stopped accepting new clients in January and plans to phase out its remaining clients within the next few months.

The situation has left a lot of trans people in limbo, with their access to BC’s only accredited SRS referral and service centre suddenly cut off.

It’s a disaster, says Joshua Goldberg, co-founder of Victoria’s Transcend, a support and outreach group for trans people. “I’m very distressed that people have been left with nothing.”

Goldberg says he’s particularly upset that the clinic closed its doors before any new services were put in place. (Though the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority is now working with trans groups to survey the community’s needs and suggest new ways to meet them.)

Still, the clinic’s demise may not be all bad, Goldberg concedes. “It’s a great opportunity to re-think things,” he says.

The gender clinic is not without its flaws, he explains.

For one thing, MSP turned the clinic into a powerful gatekeeper by certifying only its practitioners to approve SRS for provincial coverage. That means trans people who couldn’t get a letter of approval from the clinic’s specialists had to pay for their treatments out of their own pocket.

The system doesn’t need to be so rigid, Goldberg says. A new structure could extend certification to a larger number of psychiatrists, once they meet a standard of expertise in the area. That would give trans people more leeway to choose practitioners they feel comfortable with. It could also eliminate the need to travel to Vancouver for treatment approval, as practitioners in more rural areas become more informed.

But Goldberg isn’t ready to part with the idea of a restructured clinic just yet. What he’d really like to see is a new clinic that is more flexible and consumer-based in its approach, coupled with a provincial network of other qualified practitioners to meet the diverse needs of BC’s trans people.

A significant number of trans people want some kind of gender clinic, he says. They would rather go to a one-stop centre than try to find all the specialists they might need on their own.

But Goldberg doesn’t think BC will see a new gender clinic anytime soon. A new clinic will be expensive, he says, and he doesn’t think the provincial government is willing to supply the necessary resources. “That would fly in the face of everything that’s happening across the province.”

A spokesperson for the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority says it is committed to providing transgender-related services in some form, but it’s too soon to say what that form will be.