Berkeley may pay for sex-change surgeries

Berkeley Old City Hall. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

City employees who want to get sex-change surgery may soon get funds for the operation from their employer.

The City Council will consider tonight setting aside $20,000 a year to assist those who want to change their genders. The money will be available on a first-come, first-served basis.

In order to be eligible for the funds, city employees will have had to “successfully lived and worked within the desired gender role full time for at least 12 months (real life experience) without returning to the original gender,” according to the resolution. They also will be required to have  worked for the city for a year, gone through a year of hormone treatments, and be active participants in a gender identity treatment program.

Neither of Berkeley’s two health plans, Kaiser and Health Net, currently pay for sex reassignment surgery. Creating a fund will actually be cheaper than adding the benefit, according to a report submitted by Phil Kamlarz, the city manager.

The city of San Francisco has helped pay for sex reassignment surgery for 10 years. The operation can cost as much as $50,000.

The vote on the added benefit will come immediately after a meeting where the City Council will grapple with its unfunded pension liabilities, which City Auditor Ann-Marie Hogan estimates will reach more than $250 million in the next decade.

Berkeley has about 1,500 employees, but only a few are expected to be interested in sex-reassignment surgery.

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  • jjohannson

    The problem is that $20K in new or “found” money will be going to one person, versus, say, summer school for 50 pre-schoolers.

  • DC

    Put this together with the article about the unfunded liability audit…and I think my head will explode. I mean – really?

  • Jim

    Big question is after their city paid for sex change what bathroom would they be using while enjoying their city paid YMCA membership

  • fuzzymerkowitz

    Our leaders are so far on the left as to be the the liberal equivelent of the tea party. Wacko political ideals are wacko political ideals. The thing that keeps driving them is an amway style group think that cannot be penetrated by common sense. They literally do not feel the humiliation that they heap on the middle class tax paying citizens of Berkeley. Bates and his team don’t care about the middle class families who inhabit the Berkeley flat lands. To be in the “in crowd” in Berkeley one must be very poor, very rich, disabled, or nuts. Being on the hill helps alot too! Has anyone payed attention to where the street cleaning parking violations scam ends? It ends far enough down the hill that street cleaning trucks could easily work that area. He is robbing us because we don’t have representation like those on the hill who’s pockets are deep enough to get anything stopped Bates has this community divided between different socio-economical groups. The more crazy services Berkeley offers to select individuals of the community, the more services can be offered to the upper level citizens without the rest of us noticing. If a dog is barking on the hill, cops will come out to handle the situation. I have lived next to a crack house for 13 years and the cops do not care on any level. I have raised two children next to the worst representation of black America possible. In spite of our constant attempts to show possitive examples of black America to our children, they are just afraid of blacks. It’s situations like this that are hurting our community more than some secretary’s feeling of discomfort at having a penis.
    Instead of a penisectomy, I’d like a crack dealerectomy and it wont cost 20,000 dollars.

  • Alicia

    More on the City’s Budget priorities, a story I hope Berkeleyside will cover in more depth:

    City’s Mental Health Program In Need of Reform Due to Financial Situation – The Daily Californian http://bit.ly/fZuQ59

    For information about the City’s Mental Health department (65.5 FTE) see these documents posted on the City Web site: http://bit.ly/eK4Yl1

  • Jesse Townley

    This is a straw man issue for the larger problem of unfunded obligations. $20,000 a year is a tiny amount of money in the overall situation of a multi-million dollar budget, and as Kamlarz points out, it’s cheaper than adding the benefit- and if it’s not used, it’s not spent, unlike adding it to an official health plan.

    So the City Manager does something that is cleverly cost-conscious that helps retain experienced employees at a tiny cost and it’s held up as a bad thing?

    Please have some sense of scale. $20K that may not even be spent is not the problem.

    And for the last poster, sex reassignment surgery is not a secretary’s “discomfort” at having a penis. Saying that is as disrespectful as pooh-poohing curb cuts because wheelchair users “can probably just find an existing driveway somewhere to get to the street.”

  • Jesse Townley

    P.S.- From the Daily Planet’s description of tonight’s City Council meeting:

    “The Consent Calendar also includes a $50,000 lawsuit settlement over an injury caused by a trip on an uneven sidewalk”

    Add in the legal staff time to negotiate this settlement, plus whatever Public Works staff time to quickly correct the offending sidewalk, and you’ve got more than $100,000 easily.

    Why aren’t the budget hawks decrying the litigant in this case? It’s at least 5 times the cost and- unlike the $20,000 program- definitely withdrawn from the City’s coffers.

  • DC

    Jesse: How unconnected to reality can one get? This is an insulting proposition at a time when many of the councilors’ constituents cannot even afford BASIC health care. I am a working professional who can’t swing dental or vision care. I am insulted that this benefit is to be added for city employees. Even cushy employer-provided insurance almost never provides this as a benefit.

    Is it a worthwhile thing? Sure. In some abstract world where budgets have no meaning, it would be grand to provide. Should it it a priority for city funds? Heck, no.

  • laura menard

    Jesse,

    Budget Hawks????

    This PERK added to the CADILLAC level of health benefits city employee enjoy is an insult to regular folks struggling to pay ever increasing health care costs ( average citizens pays $938 per month compared to city staff $0). Even worse for Berkeley disabled relying on MediCal who are facing the potential of losing prescription drug coverage.

  • Wes

    As a trans person living in Berkeley (though I do not work for the city), I am in full support of this. Some of the comments on here are quite frankly appalling in their sheer transphobia.

    And to the person who complained about not having vision or dental and being subsequently mad about this – seriously? I, too, do not have vision or dental insurance, and despite having both vision and dental problems, those two things are NOTHING compared to being in the right gender. Imagine for one second what it would be like to be perceived as the wrong gender your entire life. This is something cis (meaning, non-transgender) people take for granted completely, and it makes life for trans people like me extremely hard as a result.

    This is Berkeley – if you’re going to be a bigot, you chose the wrong place to live.

  • DC

    Oh come on – those of us who think this is an unaffordable benefit aren’t bigots. It’s a benefit that is simply quite exceptional nationwide, and not routinely offered as a norm. Even when I worked at a F’500 company – with gold-plated, exceptional benefits – this wasn’t offered. It’s nice that Berkeley wants to do it, but it’s not routine coverage. If Berkeley were in the black and looking how to spend its surplus I think it would be a fine thing to cover.

    But they are not.

  • Eric Panzer

    To the naysayers: I suppose we should eliminate orthodontics, child-care benefits, grief counseling, and anti-depressants from employee benefits as well? I mean, these things aren’t strictly necessary for survival, right?

    Echoing other commenters, some perspective is in order here–not to mention compassion. Controversy aside, gender reassignment is a presently considered valid treatment for gender identity disorder, which is likewise current recognized by the APA. Treatment for GID, should be made just as available as treatment for other recognized mental disorders.

    Perhaps if this were set to bankrupt the city in and of itself, it would be worthy of greater scrutiny. But seeing as how it represents a yearly cost equivalent to less than one-fifth of an individual fire or police annual pension, I don’t think it should be singled out for criticism–unless, of course, one is actually bigoted against the well-being and needs of transgendered individuals.

  • http://twitter.com/Weezus Rachel A.

    I agree that it is a red herring. It gets a lot of media attention, blah blah blah. But it’s ultimately not going to be the issue that breaks the bank in Berkeley.

    Here’s what I’d love folks to get up in arms about: who are the commercial property owners who aren’t filling their empty storefronts? Is it because the majority of properties seem to be owned/managed by one company — are they setting a rent minimum in Berkeley, thwarting the flow of commerce here? Are the property owners residents of Berkeley? What are the penalties that can be levied against them? Are they keeping their rents high so that they don’t mess with the valuation of their properties when going for more loans to buy more properties?

    One example: the property on upper Solano that houses the USPS office, the former Front Row Video and the former dance studio. The dance studio space has been empty for years. I’d put money on the former Front Row Video space staying empty. I imagine that the USPS is paying enough money to cover the property’s expenses. Meanwhile those of us who live here end up with yet another empty storefront which negatively impacts the quality of life, etc .

    Maybe if there was some more commerce in Berkeley — hardware store on upper Solano, b’fast spot like the Elmwood Diner on upper Solano to name just a few — the city might take in some extra $$ in taxes.

  • jane

    I think it is great that the city of Berkeley wants to find away to help defray the cost of this for transgendered people. However, it is hard to hear about the city adding benefits when we have serious financial problems. A couple ideas to make it easier to stomach… Could you cut back on a different benefit? Could it have a salary cap (if you make more than $120,000 a year, you are not eligible)?

  • Maureen Burke

    City employees receive orthodontics, child-care benefits and grief counseling as part of their employment package? Wow. I don’t know anybody who receives that level of benefits, not even UC personnel. Of course those benefits should be cut.

  • DC

    @Maureen: Yeah, I know. Berkeley’s benefits in general are far better than I have ever gotten in my entire working life. Or indeed far better than those for anyone I know. I should just fold trying to run my business and go work for the city.

  • Wes

    “Could it have a salary cap (if you make more than $120,000 a year, you are not eligible)?”

    See, that makes much more sense than what other people are saying. I wouldn’t be against something like that.

    “Oh come on – those of us who think this is an unaffordable benefit aren’t bigots. It’s a benefit that is simply quite exceptional nationwide, and not routinely offered as a norm.”

    So because society as a whole is transphobic and very hostile towards trans people getting care (as a trans person, I know this firsthand), Berkeley should be the same way?

    Also, if you think it’s an unaffordable benefit, again, you have no idea the toll being transgender takes. 50% of transgender people have attempted suicide by the time they are 20 years old. This is a very, very, very serious condition, and it’s also rare, so treating those who do have it should be of utmost importance.

  • http://systemicfailure.wordpress.com Drunk Engineer

    I must disagree with Mr. Panzer’s flippant comment. Anti-depressants are often a life-saving treatment.

  • Mathew Parker

    Wait- I pay a lot of taxes, most of the money goes to employee benefits and and not even services. Money goes to bloated pensions, municipal overstaffing, busy work and now SEX CHANGES?
    So, if we don’t pay this, does the employee turn into Buffalo Bill and go on a rampage?
    Why is this my headache- most employees should be happy to have a job and a penis or vagina. Nevermind switching sides and playing for the other team.
    I’d like to fire 5o% of the workforce now- as they do nothing except ruin business and steal money to pay shyster employees.

  • Mathew Parker

    As a taxpayer, I want grief counseling because being a citizen of Berkeley is DEPRESSING.
    First, the idiots at City Hall push through a massive debt laden bond act for schools just as the muni bond market goes off a cliff(that is like, super dumb) and now they want to pass gimmes to the useless employees like braces,sex changes, YMCA passes etc.
    Welcome to the control economy intelligentsia a la Soviet Russia circa 1980- where government corruption jumps the shark.
    Maybe we can give Tom Bates a brain transplant, as he obviously has a rotten eggplant in that rockhead of his

  • Mathew Parker

    So, do transgender people want to give African Americans 40 acres and a mule? Because we still owe them that first before we take a machete to your genitalia.
    There are people starving in Peoples Park, California, the US and of course, the world. And that money would be better spent giving it to people we have slighted or ruined as opposed to the profligate and confused. And then, many times, the surgery doesn’t solve their issues anyway. So, more money down a rathole

  • Wes

    Wow, Matthew, you need a privilege check, stat. DO NOT use the t-word. That is a slur against transgender women! I’m appalled that Berkeleyside doesn’t moderate bigotry.

  • Wes

    Many of these comments are a complete demonstration of why life as a trans person in Berkeley is terrible. I get harassed when I walk down the street, and then I come home and read a Berkeley blog and have to see slurs used against trans people. This city is supposed to be better than this.

  • Wes

    (I take back my comment about Berkeleyside not moderating bigotry, as they have since done so with the slurs used in the above posts. Thank you.)

  • Bob

    This isn’t about transgered people and whether you like them or not. It is about tax dollars being spend on something that is not a medical necessity. Providing health benefits is the right thing to do. This isn’t. We have bigger issues to deal with.

  • shorty

    They can ‘fix’ the trannies once they ‘fix’ the damaged sidewalks and other public works we pay for via property taxes. I have no problem with and LGBT person and their issues, but let’s talk about taking care of educating our citizens, responsibly funding our public works that we pay for via taxes, medical care for all. And Mr Phil K, city manager, got a big fat pay raise from his cronies on the City Council. Here’s the best medicine: vote their asses out next election!

  • Mathew Parker

    Is the “t” word taxpayer?
    If its that important to them, then they can pay for it themselves. This is not life or death, and you can be a tranny in Berkeley and most people do not care. What people care about on the board is that its a free ride for a microscopic portion of the population and staff- and they get some special free ride.

  • Wes

    It IS a medical necessity, Bob. You show a clear lack of understanding about transgender issues if you disagree.

    Actually, you’re wrong. I’m a transgender guy in Berkeley, and people CONSTANTLY care. Every single time I leave my house, people care. So please stop putting your privileged opinion out there when it’s blatantly incorrect.

    some special free ride? No. YOU get the ‘special free ride’ of being born and perceived as the right gender so you don’t HAVE to go through invasive, expensive surgeries. Transgender people are victims, not getting ‘extra benefits.’

  • Wes
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