LGBT advocacy group Basic Rights Oregon and unions packed the house with supporters for the big vote, which is one of only two times in the past two decades that the council has overridden the recommendations of the city's Labor Management Benefits Committee. That committee advised the city not to approve trans-inclusive healthcare, saying putting up to $32,000 a year into funding employee sex changes was not a good business decision.
A handful of citizens turned up at the vote this morning to tell council to shoot down the idea. Portlander Kelsey Green Grout suggested that instead of expanding the public insurance benefits, the city set up a private nonprofit to cover sex changes, or ask all employees if they would be willing to contribute $5 to a fund to cover sex changes.
But the council agreed with the American Medical Association that sex changes are necessary treatment for gender identity disorder and should be covered just like employees' prescribed heart surgeries and knee surgeries.
"We rely on doctors to tell us what are medically necessary treatments," said Mayor Sam Adams said before addressing the council's decision to overrule the committee's decision. "It has happened before but it is very rare. This is one of those rate times when we are respectfully disagreeing."
San Francisco, whose public insurance has covered city employee sex changes since 2001, paid for only 37 sex changes in five years for its 25,000—37,000 employees.
No city employee publicly told council they need a sex change, but one employee did read a statement on behalf of another, anonymous, transgender worker. "City employees have all been kind and respectful," read the statement.
Portlander Stephanie Jenke, who transitioned from male to female in 2004, noted to council that transgender people have very high suicide rates. Covering full healthcare, she said, would remove one of the major stressors in transgender peoples' lives and maybe prevent suicide.
"Seems to me that $32,000 is pretty efficient in saving a life," said Commissioner Amanda Fritz, before voting aye.
And now the fun part: Basic Rights Oregon is throwing a victory party tonight at Crush Bar (1412 SE Morrison) from 5:30-7:30pm.