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Province stalls on SRS funding

New resource centre announced to assess needs of trans people

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty announced an initiative to fund and study health programs for the queer community last month, but trans activists are disappointed that the province still doesn’t cover the cost of sex reassignment surgery (SRS).

McGuinty told the crowd at the annual Pride Toronto Gala on Jun 20 that the province will fund an Ontario Health Resource Centre (OHRC) to house the queer-oriented Rainbow Health Network at the Sherbourne Health Centre. The move is one of a number of initiatives that the Ministry Of Health And Long-term Care touts as specific to queer Ontarians.

Ken Chan, a spokesperson for health minister George Smitherman, says that getting support for trans health initiatives remains an uphill battle, but that the new centre represents progress.

“The OHRC includes a transgender component,” says Chan. “The groups that got together to make this proposal to the government included a number of trans groups.”

The new centre will assess the trans community’s needs including whether to press ahead with health plan coverage for SRS.

Trans activist Susan Gapka of the Trans Health Lobby Group agrees that the OHRC is a “very important step,” but she says the province needs to cover SRS costs now rather than spend more time studying the issue.

“Members of the trans health lobby group have been very clear in that SRS is a priority,” says Gapka. “Making us wait until a needs assessment articulates that is very disappointing.”

British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Quebec fund all or most SRS procedures because they’re medically necessary. Some provinces even pay for trans people to travel to other provinces to get the operations they need. Ontario used to pay for SRS but delisted the procedures in 1998.

Gapka notes that without access to SRS, Ontario’s trans people face additional obstacles.

“We can’t change our documentation until we have SRS, and that’s a real barrier to someone who experiences discrimination in their employment and housing.

“We were really looking for more from this government during this mandate, particularly from Toronto Centre,” she continues, referring to Smitherman, the MPP for Toronto Centre-Rosedale. “I feel like this is a wall we’ve hit here.”

Since 1998 Ontario surgeons have stopped performing most types of SRS operations because no funding means no demand, so even if the province does begin paying for SRS, there aren’t any doctors to perform them.

“What that means is that if there was public funding tomorrow, people would still need to pay out of pocket for the travel,” says Gapka. “We need to be moving on building the infrastructure, having a community-based assessment. We need to start building this now. We’re already so far behind.”

“Once the Rainbow Health Network is up and alive and they have experts on board, they’ll be able to advise government on how to move forward,” says Chan. “We also need a better appreciation for the number in Ontario who would avail themselves of the service.”