Nunatsiaq News
NEWS: Nunavut May 22, 2012 - 9:45 am

Expert backs Plamondon in Nunavut trans debate

“It’s not a moral or religious issue, it’s strictly a medical condition that needs treatment”

DAVID MURPHY
Vanida Plamondon, a transgendered woman from Kugluktuk, faces homelessness in Edmonton after being denied medical treatment by the Government of Nunavut. She has filed complaints with the Department of Health and Social Services and the Nunavut Human Rights Tribunal. (FILE PHOTO)
Vanida Plamondon, a transgendered woman from Kugluktuk, faces homelessness in Edmonton after being denied medical treatment by the Government of Nunavut. She has filed complaints with the Department of Health and Social Services and the Nunavut Human Rights Tribunal. (FILE PHOTO)

Expert sexual minority researcher Dr. Kristopher Wells thinks it’s about time Canada gets in touch with issues facing transexuals.

“It’s not a moral or religious issue, it’s strictly a medical condition that needs treatment,” said Wells, a researcher at the Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services at the University of Alberta. 

He’s responding to Vanida Plamondon’s story of being denied funds for sex reassignment surgery. She’s filed a human rights complaint against the Government of Nunavut, asserting the government acted in a discriminatory manner when funds were taken away mid-way through her change from a man to a woman.

She’s gone through hardships from grade school up until reaching the age of 38, something Wells wants to see less of in the future. That’s why he recently visited Yellowknife to talk to grade school children about transphobia and sexual orientation issues.

According to an Egale Canada survey, Canada’s lesbian-gay-bisexual-transsexual human rights organization, 90 per cent of youth who identify as transsexuals or transgender are bullied and 95 per cent of transgendered students feel unsafe at school.

“We spent three days working on sexual orientation and gender identity issues with the public school district and working with the human rights commission, talking about trends throughout Canada about these issues and some of the resources that are being developed,” he said.

Wells says he’s received calls from across the country from teachers and schools providing him with the best medical literature to develop guidelines in helping schools understand trans issues and supporting students who are transitioning.

With their help, he’s co-written the book Supporting Transgender and Transsexual students in K-12, which was released a day before the International Day Against Homophobia on May 16.

This education may be new in Canada, but compared with other parts of the world, such as all four Scandinavian countries, Canada is severely lacking in comparison according to Wells. Canada sits 18th on a scale produced by the the World Economic Forum on gender equality, behind countries like South Africa and just ahead of Latvia and Cuba.

Sweden — a country that sits at relatively the same latitude as Nunavut — funds sexual reassignment surgery to all its citizens, whereas in Canada, only those who live in provinces that deem sex reassignment or SRS surgery as a medical necessity grant their citizens funding.

Six provinces in Canada fund at least some parts of an SRS procedure, whereas four others don’t and all three territories do not, according to Egale. Egale says on its website that most countries with socialized health care plans cover SRS.

This is true for the most part, and even Iran — a country in which it’s common practice for homosexuals to receive the death penalty — pays SRS costs for its citizens.

“It’s this notion that these issues are taken quite differently around the world,” said Wells.  “That’s why it’s really important that we look to organizations like the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH), that begins to announce an international consensus that’s ethical and respectable.”

WPATH is an international body that promotes evidence-based research on all matters regarding transgender and transsexual health. It hires doctors from around the world to study transsexual and transgendered people, and develops a standard of care booklet, which many countries turn to when dealing with trans issues.

“Now we’re seeing initiatives emerge. I think our understanding of gender identity is where our understanding of sexual orientation was 30 years ago,” said Wells.“We’re seeing representation not only in media, but in society, which is causing people to really look more closely at what exactly gender identity is, and what are the recommended protocols.”

Ironically, mental health can be an issue with transsexuals and transgendered people when SRS is not administered, says Wells.

“It’s the age old question. Do you put costs in prevention or put them in intervention down the road?” said Wells. “Funding these surgeries will actually save the government in the long term. Or they will be medicating, having to deal with mental health and other health concerns further down the road.”

“This is fundamentally about ethical and professional medical coverages, it’s clearly a significant human rights concern,” said Wells who believes Plamondon is a “pioneer” for taking a step in the right direction in filing a human rights complaint, and says it might lead to others doing the same thing.

“[The government] cannot look at it as an issue of economics. And they need to educate themselves about what’s happening in other jurisdictions.

“This issue isn’t going away. Vanida is truly a pioneer, and you may not see many cases given the size of the population in the North, but others will certainly come by her speaking up. She’s helping to break the silence and that will encourage other people to seek support as well.”

 

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