Alberta GRS Delisting: 72 Hours Later
I promised Autumn I'd write something up when I got the chance, and here we are, no sleep, an hour to go before work, the first breather in about 72 hours.
Canada has long been progressive on LGBT issues, and most Provinces include coverage of Gender Reassignment Surgery in some form (although things are far more scarce for the transmen, with Ontario only just having relisted coverage, and Alberta otherwise being the only option). Alberta had one of the most respectable clinics in North America, operated by the respected Dr. Lorne Warneke, someone who understands the issue quite well and hasn't bragged in the past about turning away 95% of people who come for help, like another major Canadian clinic has (CAMH / Clarke, where you'll find Drs. Blanchard, Zucker et. al).
On Wednesday, the Province delisted coverage in its annual budget — only a week after changes to the Human Rights Act were proposed, in which gender identity and gender expression were intentionally not discussed by the Conservative government. Although the budget change is being passed off as a careful survey of the entire medical system line by line, the only things that were cut were a chiropractic provision (saving the Province $53 Million per year), and GRS (saving the Province… wait for it… $700,000). And while ideally I'd rather chiropractic care be there for people who use and need it, GRS is a recognized medically necessary procedure, and far from the “cosmetic” process it's being painted as by the government.
I'm a little overwhelmed by the support that has been pouring in, though. The Edmonton Journal, Edmonton Sun, Calgary Herald, Calgary Sun, VUE Weekly have all made an effort to show an understanding of our perspective, sometimes imperfect, but definitely sensitive to transsexual medical care. Up close, the media have been even more gracious — one example, I found with City TV's Breakfast Television, Dave and Glen were very welcoming, professional, interested and warm. We've had some people in the trans community step up to the plate for this purpose, and are doing us proud.
Of course, media can be fickle, stories can come and go quickly. What matters is the pull of public opinion, and for a Province that has a reputation for being “redneck,” it's surprising to see a Facebook group dedicated to fighting the government's action balloon to over 600 members in a single day (it's about double that now, and poised to grow). I still believe that when it comes to social issues, there are a large number of closet moderates and progressives in Alberta (the cities at least), waiting to find their voice.
The situation here is still a little chaotic. With regards to people who were in the queue for surgery (that is, approved but held back until the 2009 – 2010 fiscal year due to a quota of 16 people per year), we are hearing a very different story from Alberta Health about whether we are still eligible than what the media is being told. So the full ramifications are still as yet unknown 48 hours later — even Dr. Warneke himself has not had clear direction as of our last correspondence. On a side note, media has heard that there are 20 people in the queue, and given that Alberta Health has only funded 16-20 people per year, this indicates that if delisting hadn't happened, a backlog crisis would have arrived.
Because of the situation as it had stood prior to delisting, Alberta had been a mecca of a sort for people who didn't have the means to self-fund their procedures. Going by statistical averages really can't demonstrate how many people are affected by this decision. There is a lot of hurt. There is also a lot of reason to hope, right now.
Unfortunately, the Alberta community had been resistent to organizing prior to this event. We're suffering for it now, with the response being chaotic, everyone jumping in and doing different things. We're trying to get on the same page. It isn't easy.
I can't go into details of planning at the moment, but I do suspect this will be a battle to watch in the coming days or weeks.