In Advance of Trans Remembrance Day, Groups Call Nonpartisan Support for Trans Health

Saturday November 20 marks the annual commemoration of the Trans Day of Remembrance. Started in 1999 by transgender advocate Gwendolyn Ann Smith as way to remember and honour Rita Hester, a transgender woman who was killed in 1998, the day has grown to be a vigil for all trans people killed in violence. For living trans people though, the time is right to push the Ontario government for help on expanding access to healthcare.

“When health services are recognized as medically necessary, it’s on our government to ensure they’re added to provincial health coverage. When they aren’t, we deny Ontarians access to life-saving healthcare.” said Fae Johnstone, MSW, Executive Director of Wisdom2Action, and lead author of a public statement demanding action from Premier Doug Ford, Official Opposition leader Andrea Horwath and Liberal leader Steven Del Duca.

The statement, which is undersigned by 48 Ontario 2SLGBTQ+, healthcare, human rights and civil society organizations, is asking for all-party support for Bill 17, the Gender Affirming Healthcare Advisory Committee Act. Bill 17 is a private members bill from Toronto Centre MPP Suze Morrison of the NDP, and it directs the Minister of Health to create an advisory committee to review gender-affirming healthcare in Ontario, and come up with a list of recommendations to improve access and coverage for trans people.

“Two-spirit, transgender, non-binary, gender diverse, and intersex people continue to face significant challenges to accessing health care services that are friendly, competent, and affirming,” explained Morrison when she introduced the bill last month.

“Stigma, discrimination, lengthy wait times, outright denial of care, exclusions of coverage and onerous referral requirements are some of the issues that make it difficult to access gender-affirming care and transition-related procedures in Ontario,” Morrison added. “Timely access to care can have a substantial positive effect on an individual’s mental health and decrease suicidality and suicide attempts.”

According to the group, Ontario is lagging behind international standards for gender-affirming healthcare, especially as outlined by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health. What does that mean? Medically necessary health procedures for trans people are still not covered by OHIP, which means that healthcare is technically inaccessible for people who can’t afford to pay for it.

“I had to wait 8 months to get access to hormones because the wait list was so long. I had to pay $14,000 out of pocket for gender affirming facial surgery,” said Charlotte Keskinen Keith, trans community member and advocate. “I was fortunate – but many trans people aren’t, many trans people are impoverished and can’t afford these services. Access to gender affirming healthcare saved my life. Everyone who needs it should have access, free of charge.”

Bill 17 passed second reading in Ontario and went to the Standing Committee on Social Policy, but the group is concerned that it will languish in committee and not get a third reading before the Legislature is dissolved ahead of next spring’s election.

Reminder: Guelph Queer Equity and HIV/AIDS Resources and Community Health will be holding a virtual vigil for the Trans Day of Remembrance on Saturday at 7 pm. You can find the link at the Facebook event page.

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