This week, a proposal for the introduction of a progressive policy in favour of increased funding for gender-reassignment surgery was covered in the New Zealand media. AUSA would like to register our severe disappointment with the general reaction to the policy from politicians across the spectrum. The leader of the Labour Party, a party that has always stated it values fairness and equality, has responded that he is “happy with [his] gender”. Members of the Government have called this aspect of essential health care “nutty”. Our own Minister of Health, Jonathan Coleman, believes that this essential health care is not something the Government should be funding.
When it comes to trans people, access to gender reassignment surgery can be absolutely vital to their mental wellbeing. Denying adequate public funding for them is not fair, nor equal. Trans people have a suicide rate of one in five, a rate that declines as steps towards transition, including gender reassignment surgery, are carried out. A move to support these members of our community is a move that ought to be incredibly important to all New Zealanders. It is also incredibly important to students, and to the trans students who make up part of our university community.
AUSA notes that according to official government statistics there are only 61 people on the male-to-female waiting list. Even if the quoted cost of “up to $70,000” is accurate, this amounts to $4.2 million dollars, a small amount given the extent of the impact on these individuals’ lives, and a small amount relative to other Government spending.
For $4.2 million dollars, the Government can end the 40-year waiting period for male-to-female surgery and make sure that sixty-one members of the community can take steps to complete their transition. Many trans people, if they want surgery, are forced to travel to places such as Thailand or the United States, often alone, in order to get the surgery they need. This comes at a substantial cost. This is unacceptable and increases post-operative complications.
Gender reassignment surgery is particularly relevant as trans people are currently required to prove that they have physically transitioned their bodies to match their gender identities in order to change their legal status. This means that due to the access limitations to gender reassignment surgery in New Zealand, those unable to access surgery will face discrimination as their legal documentation does not match the gender that they are.
AUSA supports the public funding of gender reassignment surgery. We do so not only because it is clear that such basic healthcare should be provided, but also because it is our duty as a students’ association. We have an obligation to support trans students and to work to ensure they have the same quality of life as any other student. Many trans students start to realise themselves at university, and we are committed to making universities a welcoming place for them.
Our Queer Rights Officer is available for support or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org, and can be visited in Queerspace, a safe space for all queer students. We also encourage trans students to get in contact with Trans on Campus at email@example.com, a group of trans people studying or working at the University of Auckland that aims to provide both a way for trans members of the community to network, and to actively work to improve conditions for trans people at the University of Auckland.
AUSA in its capacity as a students’ association currently provides a safe space for queer people with Queerspace, but this means nothing if even our socially liberal parties are opposed to fairness and equality for all trans people. We call on the Government and the Labour Party to commit to adequately funding this life-saving surgery.