Published on February 6, 2014 at 1:09 am
Members of UT’s Queer Students Alliance are working on legislation with the goal of convincing University administrators to expand health care benefits available for transgender students.
Legislation author Devon Howard, women’s and gender studies junior, said the ultimate goal of the legislation is expanded medical services for transgender students, including hormonal treatments, gender reassignment surgeries and mental health counseling covered by the University.
“It’s really important that we address the needs of students and what they need to transition to not only feel comfortable with their body, but to be able to function and get a good education at the University,” Howard said.
According to national nonprofit organization Campus Pride, many of UT’s peer universities, including the University of California system, the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign cover hormone and gender reassignment services for students.
UT does not offer these services because of the expenses associated with specialized medical care, according to Theresa Spalding, medical director for University Health Services. Spalding said the University does offer general medical care for all transgender students, including pap smears for students who identify as male, and said the University is committed to working with transgender students as much as possible.
“It would be wonderful if we could provide all services to all patients, but we just don’t have the ability to do all that,” Spalding said. “Trying to be as gender neutral as possible is what we try to do.”
Spalding said the University does offer many resources for mental health to all students, including students who may be suffering from depression as a result of the stigmas associated with gender identity issues.
“Mental-health services wise, we have a lot that we offer,” Spalding said.
Currently, the insurance plan available for students to purchase, offered through Blue Cross Blue Shield, meets the minimum essential health requirements of the Affordable Care Act. Insurance coverage for one year is $1,432 per student.
Adrienne Howarth-Moore, director for human resources services, said the plan’s coverage does not include gender reassignment.
“Certain treatments may be covered if the absence of that treatment would cause a decline in their physical health,” Howarth-Moore said. “Gender reassignment in general is not currently covered because that is currently not considered medically necessary.”
Marisa Kent, co-director of the Queer Students Alliance, said many students do not understand certain transgender students’ desire for sex-related surgeries.
“It’s not something most people can understand,” Kent said. “Nobody really understands the pain and the struggle [of] living in a body they feel like is not even their own.”
Howard said although some students may view gender reassignment surgeries as purely cosmetic, for some transgender individuals, medical intervention is a critical issue.
“A lot of people see these surgeries as something that is elective and it’s not,” Howard said. “It’s something that needs to be done for survival.”
The alliance already passed a resolution for gender inclusive housing through Student Government, and Kent said she hopes SG members are equally receptive to the transgender health care benefits resolution.
“We are definitely taking steps in the right direction, but transgender health benefits is our biggest focus,” Kent said.
Once the resolution is written, it will be sent to SG for a vote. If the resolution passes, it will be sent to the UT System Board of Regents, who are under no obligation to act.
“It’s really problematic because we are ranked one of the most liberal and forward-thinking universities in the world, but we don’t have a lot of things other universities have,” Kent said.
The alliance will hold a town hall meeting Feb. 19 at 6 p.m. in Room 420 in Waggener Hall for students to give their input on the resolution.