Mercedes Allen

Alberta Finance Minister: "I Didn't Know We Covered That"

Filed By Mercedes Allen | April 13, 2009 3:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Politics, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: Canada, GRS, health care reform, medical care, surgery, transgender, transsexual

When Finance Minister Iris Evans discussed the Province's decision to delist Gender Reassignment Surgery (GRS) on the day after the budget was handed down, she said, "I didn't even know we covered that." Reportedly, there was a look of hate in her eyes as she said it (I didn't see the report, but have heard this from many in the trans community who did), offset by that bright bubblegum pink power suit of hers.

Health Minister Ron Liepert has said that we were not targeted for "moral" (as defined by conservative Christians) reasons. And yet in a budget where spending was increased, and where the ministries reportedly went through everything line-by-line with the notable casualties in health funding being essentially chiropractic and GRS coverage, even our detractors see through that statement. Also notable was the fact that the cut was made without consulting with the Province's lead GID specialist, in order to be aware of any negative ramifications, learn of any concerns there might be about how it affects our community -- he'd been left completely unaware of what was to come.

The Conservatives later said that the combined total cut from chiropractic and GRS coverage was being used to provide a facility and/or services for seniors, a disadvantaged portion of our society (that they also chose to cut drug benefits for). Now, I'm not the kind of person who likes to argue who is most marginalized, and certainly support programs for seniors (and strongly oppose their drug cuts), but to make it sound like we're a privileged and affluent subset of society that doesn't need medical care support is absurd.

Alberta has gone down this road before, when it chose to try to thwart Delwin Vriend's case against the King's College, in the early 1990s. This led to a 6-year action against the Province that went to the Supreme Court of Canada, resulted in overwhelming embarrassment and expense, and led to the ruling that established Human Rights protections across the nation on the basis of sexual orientation. Other provinces have also gone down this road specifically regarding GRS: British Columbia had delisted it and later restored it due to pressure, and last year Ontario too restored it on the heels of a Human Rights ruling and in the face of more to come. In classic fashion, the Conservatives are now saying they were unaware of the Ontario history. Of course, we can never assume anything, but it doesn't take a lot of effort to see that Albertans are being taken down another bad path.

I have faith in Alberta. The people, that is -- not so much the government. Albertans are business-minded and fiscally conservative, which is why they've overwhelmingly voted in Conservative representatives for decades. But many, especially in the larger population centres, are socially progressive as well. I like to call them the "closet moderates." Afraid of being tagged "liberal," "socialist" and all of that, they have tended to be pretty silent, allowing the "redneck Little Texas" image to persist. But in the face of a really bad choice like this, I hope, that they may spread the word a little, and tell their MLAs that they really don't want this fight. I'm an Albertan and a taxpayer as well, and I really don't want this fight either -- but with something that is a medical necessity and a matter of life and death for some, I can't not fight, either.

That is something that Albertans (and most of North American society) don't understand, yet. GRS is not a cosmetic procedure. We don't wake up one day and decide that it would be cool to alienate our family, lose our spouses and children, get fired from our jobs, all so that we can be thought of as strange by society. We do it because there is a serious and present need, one which often requires GRS for closure. The information is there for them if they'd like to develop a better understanding of the real story. I hope enough are willing to listen.

In the meantime, people are not being silent. On Tuesday, as the Provincial government sits down to debate the budget, a number of people will be attending in silent but visible protest. There will also be information to hand out about who we are and why GRS is a medical necessity. On Wednesday, several of us in both Edmonton and Calgary will be filing Human Rights complaints en masse.

There has long been this feeling that in doing advocacy work for transsexuals was a risky business -- that if word went out about the fact that the Province paid for GRS, the public outrage would have it taken away in a second. Any attempt to organize needed to be sabotaged or shouted down at all costs. The advocates were the enemy. Consequently, when the delisting occurred last week (only a week after controversy bubbled up regarding the Province's refusal to consider trans inclusion in changes being made to the Human Rights Commission), it caught us in a state of being satellite activists, working independently, sometimes against each other, sometimes afraid that our fights to achieve might in the end cost more than it was worth. People walked on eggshells.

That is changing. Stay tuned.

Crossposted to The Bilerico Project and available to Pam's House Blend


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"There has long been this feeling that in doing advocacy work for transsexuals was a risky business"

Obviously, Canadians are brighter than their US counterparts who advocate "walk tall and carry a big stick".

Yes, low key is a much better and more productive way to go IMHO

See, but here's the point, though, is that it resulted in the people being so hostile toward organizing -- you'd met one of the more avid examples in the virtual world -- that we were in no state of readiness to challenge it when it happened. I don't think you'll hear many Albertan trans folks saying that we should abandon activism now....

"Low key ... is a more productive way to go" how? It certainly didn't prevent the Alberta government from doing what those who think like you do said would happen if trans people in Alberta asserted their rights. It takes a major "spin" to claim that the elimination of GRS coverage in Alberta shows that trans people should just keep quiet.

The "fiscal conservative" budget cuts, that always seem to attack relatively small programs set up to benefits low to mid income people, have been so discredited here in the US that it's hard to hear someone talk about them without projectile vomiting.

After our government spent over a trillion on a useless war in iraq, trillions to subsidize banks, created trillions at the fed to subsidize wall street, and plans to spend even more on a public-private partnership to buy up toxic assets that at book-value from investor banks, when I hear someone in the government complain about a couple million spent to monitor volcanoes, I just want to scream.

I'm sure there's money for the seniors and the trans people in Alberta. They're just using "financial conservatism" as an excuse.

I can't agree that "low key" is a winning strategy for trans equality. Low key just keeps trans people out of the spotlight, easier to dehumanize and easier to discriminate against. Visibility and humanization is what have contributed greatly to GLB acceptance, the same is true of trans acceptance.

Previous low key strategies might just be why they thought they could get away with de-listing trans coverage since they figured no one would make a big deal about it.

Emelye, first I'd like to congratulate you on your stirling work in a dozen newspaper's comments sections. Often, I've come in to comment, and find out you've gotten there before me. Your style is more concise and more effective than mine too. Brava!

Now getting on-topic...

I think you're right. But if you've been monitoring the various newspapers in Alberta, you'll see that the coverage has been almost uniformly supportive of us.

If, as I believe too, "they figured no-one would make a big deal about it", they certainly realise the scope of their mistake now. Already, the Magic Words "David Vriend" are being muttered, and putting shivers down their political advisors spines.

It never pays to underestimate the capacity for human stupidity. That comment by Iris Evans that she'd been unaware of the Ontario case might very well be true. But if so, she knows about it now, and must have a sinking feeling at the situation they've gotten themselves into, by punishing a group they thought would be safe to go after. They could attempt to tough it out, but I bet their advisors are telling them that that would be a "very courageous decision".

This all could, just possibly, have a silver lining. Because I think that if they cave, as I think they just might, it will be a cold day in hell before they try something like this again.

If it comes to court, it will be hellish for those like Mercedes who will have their treatment delayed, possibly for years. A win in court is never certain, either. But another Vriend case would really damage these idiots, and could well lead to the granting of rights for Ts similar to the ones already enjoyed by GLBs.

Thank you, Zoe. You sell yourself short, however, since it's a lot more often that I arrive at a newspaper's comment site and see your wisdom and factual information has already been very well communicated. My gratitude is more for your continuing support of the trans community than your gracious compliment. But don't stop! ;-)

Since the health minister has recently announced that those currently in the system will have their surgeries covered, the immediate impact of the rule change has been mitigated but the long term damage is still egregious. I hope the local Albertan support continues for a real change in the rules and won't stop because the initial damage has been alleviated.

"I hope the local Albertan support continues for a real change in the rules and won't stop because the initial damage has been alleviated."

It may only be a day later, but we're still seeing unity on that.

I'm sure that the Albertan Trans groups are getting massive support from Egale Canada, right?

Sorry, a bit of gallows humour there.

But wait! They actually have something on their website!

“Once again the trans community is being discriminated against and denigrated,” says Mickey Wilson, Chair of Egale Canada’s Trans Committee. “First, gender identity was excluded from proposed amendments to the Alberta Human Rights, Citizenship, and Multiculturalism Act, and now sex reassignment surgery is de-listed from Alberta Health Care coverage. This announcement came with no warning or consultation with the community and has left many people scrambling to look for alternatives,” said Wilson....He went on to say that Egale would do everything it could to ensure that the decision is overturned.

Well Bugger me (A traditional Australian expression meaning "Gosh, I'm genuinely amazed!!"). Next thing you know, the HRC will be getting involved in the Angie Zapata murder case, and GLBT rather than GLB(t) will be a reality.

Nah. I can only believe one impossible thing before breakfast.

ROFLMAO!! Thanks for the humor, Zoe. It made my day.

Technically, surgery was never delisted in BC. What happened is that the government slashed the budget of the Vancouver Gender Clinic by more than 50%, forcing it to close down. The Clinic was the gatekeeper, the only one who could approve surgery. With it gone, surgery was still covered by healthcare on paper but there was no one who had the power to give approval.

It took several years of hard work, but finally a new system was put into place to approve people for surgery.