Imagine living every day in a body that isn’t your own. It’s completely foreign to your brain. It feels, looks and works differently than your mind would expect it to. When you try to fix this frustrating, broken connection, people discriminate against you and strip away your rights. Transgender people go through this every day. If this isn’t challenging enough, add trying to access and pay for health care. And then add going to college.
Transgender students face a multitude of hurdles in college, like finding gender-neutral, inclusive bathrooms and housing and using preferred names or gender in paperwork, as well as admission itself.
Many trans students who are going into college haven’t started to transition yet, often because patients who are under 18 must have parental consent or they are still figuring out their identity. For most, college is a time of immense personal changes, and it can be life-changing for a transgender student to have the option of insurance coverage for surgery or other transitional needs.
Just six years ago, no universities or colleges offered comprehensive health care benefits to transgender students. Today, more than 36 higher-level school health plans cover sex reassignment surgery, and an additional 25 schools cover hormone therapy. Although this is good news, there are about 4,495 higher education institutions in the U.S. total (as of 2010).
This past April, Tufts University implemented student insurance coverage for hormone replacement therapies and surgeries for transgender students. Yale University has also done this, as well as providing the coverage that was already offered to their employees. In May, The University of Illinois at Chicago, UIC, followed the examples of other schools, although students must pay 30 percent of the cost. Princeton covers gender confirmation surgery for employees, and it is possible that the benefits will be included in the student health plans soon.
While it’s a great thing that Princeton provides this coverage to transgender employees, that’s only part of the equation. Inclusion needs to be extended to students. Other schools, such as the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard, Stanford, Brown, New York University and Cornell University, include surgery and hormones for transgender students in their health plans. The pressure from simliar schools is moving Princeton toward coverage for trans students.
“Many of our peers are moving in this direction, and it seems to make sense for our population,” Michele Minter, the vice provost for institutional equity and diversity and chair of the transgender working group, said to The Daily Princetonian. “It seems like a very straightforward thing that would have minimal cost implications and have many potential benefits,” Minter said.
How long will it take for smaller colleges and universities to adopt this welcoming attitude, too? It provides an invaluable opportunity for trans people, young and old, to get an education beyond high school, when they would otherwise feel unable (or unwelcome) to do so.
Including transgender health needs in student coverage doesn’t raise tuition rates, despite what the opposition claims. Not every transgender person opts for surgery, and hormones are a fairly inexpensive treatment. There wouldn’t be a rush of people who want surgery. Health insurance coverage for transgender people simply means creating easier access to necessary health care. Affordable health care prevents unsafe transition practices, and it also makes HIV therapy more accessible.
The transition process is about happiness and well-being. When transgender people aren’t covered by health insurance, they could develop other medical conditions, such as depression, and may have a higher chance of suicide. It’s harmful for an individual to go throughout life struggling with Gender Dysphoria. Counseling and therapy are necessary treatments in the transition process as well. Hormone therapy helps transgender people to align their expressed gender with their bodies. It is essential for transgender people to have congruency in body and mind in order to thrive.
In addition to including and addressing the needs of transgender students, health care coverage for trans students adds to the diversity of a campus. When a transgender student is applying to schools, seeing that a university or college is accepting and welcoming of everyone can change the whole course of someone’s life.