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Alberta Finance Minister: “I Didn’t Know We Covered That”

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 causalties 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 embarassment 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.

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