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Activists want city's health insurance to cover sex changes

protest November 2, 1996
Web posted at: 1:35 p.m. EST

From Correspondent Rusty Dornin

SAN FRANCISCO (CNN) -- They call themselves the transsexual menace, activists fighting against what they say is widespread discrimination against transsexuals.

San Francisco was the target of the recent protest because the city insurance program doesn't cover expenses for employees who want a sex change or medical treatments for those who've undergone the surgery.

"The denial of coverage has been arbitrary and prejudicial based on ignorance and fear," said James Green, a transgender activist. "Including it is not going to hurt anything."


Three years ago, Sgt. Stephanie Thorne of the San Francisco Police Department became Stephan Thorne. Thorne has worked for the city since 1978. San Francisco banned job discrimination against transgenders two years ago and Thorne believes that same law should apply in his medical insurance. (27 sec./1MB QuickTime movie)movie icon

"Now when I go in for that treatment and the insurance companies don't want to pay for that, then I'm being discriminated against," Thorne says. "I'm not like other people who have other medical conditions."

Arthur Bruzzone, chairman of the San Francisco Republican Party, sees it another way.

"Transgender operations, like breast implants, are a cosmetic problem. San Francisco has enough problems with things like potholes. We should be taking care of those things before we should be going around offering things like $30,000 operations," he said.

Other people also oppose the proposed insurance coverage, arguing it's another outrageous proposal on the part of a city known for its nonconformist attitudes.

But changing one's gender is not just a lifestyle choice, according to some experts. There are strict medical and psychological guidelines before someone is recommended for surgery.


"These people are willing to give up everything they've built to (finally) be themselves," says psychotherapist Lin Fraser.

There are seven transsexuals among San Francisco's more than 25,000 city employees. One San Francisco supervisor is pushing to change the city's insurance program.

"(One) that would cover city employees who are transgender and their health needs," says Tom Ammiano, a member of San Francisco's Board of Supervisors.

For employees such as Stephan Thorne, medical coverage is a benefit that he has a right to fully use.

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