Lobby group Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) is urging the Gillard Government to commit to fully subsidise the cost of gender reassignment surgery, saying trans people unable to afford surgery are facing unnecessary hardship.
Although the federal budget was handed down this week, the call has been made, in part, following a Queensland trans woman’s threat to perform her own gender reassignment surgery in protest at the current costs.
PFLAG national spokeswoman Shelley Argent told the Star Observer she will lobby MPs in Canberra in the coming weeks to push for greater Medicare coverage of surgery costs.
“I think it’s extremely important. We’ve still got people who are trying to self-harm, the suicide rate is still so high and I think what we need to do is take some active steps to halt this,” Argent said.
“I’ve had parents [speak to PFLAG] recently with young children who are identifying as trans and one particular child of a very young age is wanting to die so she can come back as a boy.” Medicare currently covers the costs of parts of the gender reassignment process. Without private health insurance, however, trans people can be left thousands of dollars out of pocket.
Australian Transgender Support Association Queensland (ATSAQ) spokesperson Krissie Johnson said trans people living on pensions are unable to afford private health insurance and cannot afford the cost of surgery overseas.
“It is coming to a critical point, and I can only speak of Queensland, where people are starting to commit suicide again in big numbers,” Johnson told the Star Observer.
“It’s a big thing for people.”
The recent Australian Private Lives 2 study showed trans men and women reported the highest levels of psychological distress, with depression rates soaring up to 50 percent in trans men.
Queensland support group, Changling Aspects spokesperson Kathy Noble said she has been pushing the Queensland and federal government on the issue since 2002.
“It annoys me when people turn around and say, ‘But you’re so complex’,” Noble told the Star Observer.
“Well, we’re not, it’s the government that has made us complex with the laws they have made.
“I’m disgusted with the whole thing, I keep saying this … but no one seems to be taking any notice.”
TransGender Victoria spokesperson Sally Goldner said while she supports greater coverage of surgery costs, a holistic approach needs to be taken.
“We’d like to see initiatives on Medicare as part of a whole spectrum of health initiatives for a whole range of trans people,” Goldner told the Star Observer.
“We’d like to see the federal health minister take a very directive stance on getting surgeries performed in the public system, given the urgency of them, and working with relevant state counterparts to do that.
“We also need funding for support services in all states and territories … because if you just help with the medical side of things it only creates a bottleneck down the line when it comes to support services.”
National LGBTI Health Alliance CEO Warren Talbot said the Alliance will hold a round table discussion with trans groups in June to map out an action plan to submit to the federal Government.
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