More Elite Colleges Are Covering Sex-Change Surgery and Other Transgender Student Needs

Illustration for article titled More Elite Colleges Are Covering Sex-Change Surgery and Other Transgender Student Needs

Most transgender college students are still fighting their administrations for basic rights like gender-neutral facilities, but a fair amount of the nation's most prestigious universities are way beyond that: 36 colleges currently or are soon slated to cover sex-change surgery as part of their student health plan, 25 others cover related hormone therapy, and 20 have plans that cover some or all sex-change treatments for their employees. Is there such a thing as trickle-down transgender rights?


These plans only directly affect a small amount of the student body, but the New York Times spoke with university administrators who said they recognized that "their insurance plan sends a signal to the much larger number of students for whom the rights of transgender people have taken a place alongside gay rights as a cause that matters."

"Students notice whether the issues that they care about, that make them feel like it's a more comfortable and welcoming place, are being discussed and addressed," said Ira Friedman, associate vice provost for student affairs and director of the student health center at Stanford, which began covering sex-change surgery in 2010.

Of course, the students who have the time and agency to champion for their rights — and actually get heard — usually attend elite colleges and come from privileged backgrounds, meaning they might "take for granted that they can and should voice their views." Often, students are the ones who campaign for coverage for gender reassignment surgery and related issues, not the administration.

Calling it a lobbying campaign "would be an overstatement," said Margaret Klawunn, vice president for campus life and student services at Brown, which said last week that its student health plan would start covering sex-change surgery beginning in August, "But students had been asking about it, so we'd been looking at it for a couple of years, whether our health plan was in line with our nondiscrimination policy."

Other students on less progressive campuses aren't so lucky. "Trans issues are new to many campus communities," said Shane Windmeyer, executive director of advocacy group Campus Pride. "You ask a lot of administrators about it, even at places that are familiar with lesbian and gay and bisexual issues, and they look at you kind of blankly."


"It is often more a knowledge and will gap than a mechanics and cost issue," said Deena Fidas, deputy director of the Human Rights Campaign's workplace project. "You have to start with Transgender 101, if you will, and demystify."

Image via
Joe Mercier/Shutterstock.




I really don't want a bunch of angry responses and having been ridiculed in the past on this site for sharing my experiences and thoughts, I hesitate to post anything, but I'm extremely curious for some insight on a topic I've been thinking about for a long time, so I will post regardless. Please hesitate from making angry, mean-hearted responses.

I was raised in an extremely open-minded community; my uncle is gay, my Unitarian Universalist coming-of-age mentor was a transgender, my UU youth group filled with teens either questioning their sexuality or who wanted an environment in which they could feel comfortable with their sexuality, my being openly bisexual, etc. Being around all forms of sexuality in my life, I never really thought about any of it. I always knew I would do anything for these wonderful people to feel good in their own skin.

I recently delved into the world of tumblr and started exploring the LGBT community. I ended up reading a lot about some of the more bizarre identities, such as Otherkins, Fictives, Transethnicity, and Transablism to name a few. I laughed to myself and thought 'Wow, these people are really something!' before moving on the the next page.

That night I lay awake with the sudden realization; Is there any difference between these identities and feeling like a man trapped in a woman's body, or vice versa? All fit into the same category of "I do not identify with the body I have". If I tolerate one, I really should be tolerating them all, right?

I'm really curious to see how others view this. Thanks in advance for the kind words from which I can learn about a field in which I don't have much knowledge.