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Trans issue makes front-page news in Manitoba

SRS funding story follows report on Xtra.ca

The Manitoba NDP government’s refusal to fund sex reassignment surgeries has finally made headline news in the province’s mainstream press.

Earlier this month, the Winnipeg Sun ran a front-page story titled ‘No cash for sex change’. Two days later, the Winnipeg Free Press followed it up with an article called ‘Cover sex-reassignment surgery: activists’.

Frances Ennis, a member of the Winnipeg Transgender Group, says the media’s coverage was “generally favourable.” She says she welcomes the attention. “I think one of the biggest problems in the trans community is that we want so much to blend into the (wider) community that we don’t speak out. But if we’re silent, no one will ever understand us.”

Xtra.ca broke the story back in May, when it reported that Manitoba’s NDP government turned down a proposal from the province’s bureaucracy — working with the local trans community — to bring funding levels for sex reassignment surgeries in line with British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec.

Kerri Irvin-Ross, Manitoba’s Minister of Healthy Living, told the Sun that her government is now considering a “made-in-Manitoba strategy” for sex-change operations.

Ennis says she wasn’t surprised last spring to learn that the NDP government had turned down the original proposal. “We’re a poorly understood group of people,” she says.

Now, her group is meeting regularly to plan a lobbying campaign. “We’ll continue to work with people in government who understand our needs and try to educate those who don’t.”

Ennis paid $30,000 for her surgery last year. She says many people simply can’t afford it, and become depressed. “They’re so incapacitated they can’t work,” she says, “and that leads to a different burden on society.” She also points out that female-to-male surgery costs twice as much.

There were no letters to the editor in the Sun or Free Press following the articles, and none of the papers’ columnists took on the issue. The Sun story quoted Myrna Driedger, the health critic for the opposition Conservatives, who had declined an interview with Xtra.ca. Driedger told the Sun, “I think the province needs to look at (Gender Identity Disorder treatment). It’s a recognized mental disorder. If other provinces are doing it and Manitoba isn’t, I think we should look at it.”

At last week’s federal NDP convention in Halifax, party delegates called on governments across the country to treat sex reassignment surgery as a medically necessary procedure.

Ennis says the Winnipeg Transgender Group has about 50 members, most of them trans people. “We’re not giving up on the issue,” she says. “I’m always hopeful but we’ve learned not to hold our breath.”