Berkeley’s City Council scheduled a vote on a fund for sex reassignment surgery for its meeting on February 15. The proposal, which would provide $20,000 per year, had attracted national attention.

A report from City Manager Phil Kamlarz noted that establishing the fund would be less expensive than paying extra premiums to add the benefit to the city’s health insurance policies.

At the meeting last night, Berkeleyan Kathryn Steuerman urged council members to ignore critics who said filling potholes was more important. “Gird your loins against such false dichotomies,” she said. “Go forward with all possible haste.”

The 21 commenters on Berkeleyside’s story yesterday had a diverse range of views. Potholes did not come up, but many suggested other priorities for the city. Other commenters argued for more perspective and compassion, and several pointed out the intolerance towards transgendered people in some of the comments.

Lance Knobel (Berkeleyside co-founder) has been a journalist for nearly 40 years. Much of his career was in business journalism. He was editor-in-chief of both Management Today, the leading business magazine...

32 replies on “City Council vote on sex change fund on Feb. 15”

  1. Marlene, I see what you are asking, but the answer is a lot less complicated. The benefit of gender reassignment surgery is going to go to one (and remotely possibly more but that is gravely doubtful) people which makes it a Special Interest, not a general benefit, which lap-band surgery et al could be given the population, associated illness etcetera. A letter from a City Council member that I received yesterday makes me strongly suspicion that this is coming up, as it did several years ago and was ignored, because of a Special Interest. If you don’t know someone on the City Council, this argument would never be in the Council Meeting I suspect.

  2. My goodness, I have seen several on-line arguments in the last couple days and in each of them, those ‘in favor’ digress into straw man arguments accusing anyone in opposition of phobia and hatred, when in fact none of the ‘opposed’ say anything other than it is inappropriate at this time to consider an additional expenditure on already extraordinarily generous employee benefits that the City of Berkeley already cannot afford. That is basis of nearly every oppositional comment I’ve seen. Period. No hate, no phobia. It’s a simple case of fiscal responsibility.

    As to Wes’s angry diatribes; what you are doing, again with straw man argument, is exactly why every single Pro-funding argument a big fat FAIL. You expect people to accept your vitrioilic hyperbole as something worth taking seriously when it comes off only as whinging and moaning. As for the “T” word — for heaven’s sake, person, if people don’t know it’s a slur EDUCATE them, that is part of your duty as a transgender person, unless of course you enjoy allowing it to happen so you can say, “see, everyone hates us!” The angrier you get, the more you spit out pointless attacks on others, the more people will simply dislike you and not feel in any way supportive of you or take you seriously.

  3. First, I’d like to know whether nor not the city’s medial insurance covers surgeries like gastric bypass/lap band for obese employees, and any subsequent skin reduction, organ transplants caused by abuse of legal and illegal substances, treatment for substance abuse, etcetera.

    An organ transplant’s going to cost 4-5 times the subsidy for a transgender employee. Furthermore, just how many surgeries will be requested by city employees? I highly doubt there’s going to be two consecutive years, let alone six or seven or even ten years consecutively.

  4. Name Witheld,
    “the word “tranny” which most people think is simply slang for “transsexual” and don’t realize is considered a slur by the trans community. I hate to be the one to break it to you, but for folks who aren’t familiar with trans culture (something like 90% of Americans) that word isn’t understood as being significantly offensive.”

    This in no way excuses its use. Ignorance of the law doesn’t excuse breaking it. The same works here. You may not know it’s wrong, but it’s still wrong. Sure, it’s not AS bad, but people like you should take the chance to educate them on why it’s wrong and prevent more people from feeling offended/marginalized. The sooner this gets brought up as a very real problem, the sooner it can be fixed.

    And in Wes’ defense, it’s very frustrating to argue about something so important and for people not to get it. This is huge. This is people’s identity. If you don’t recognize that as a huge issue from the get-go, the fact that people get emotional over it should clue you in. It’s safer to assume someone is being honest, and try to see it their way before dismissing them as being oversensitive. Perspective is an amazing thing. So, seeing as the majority of us don’t have to wake up everyday in a body that doesn’t fit who we really are, take a step back. You can’t know what it’s REALLY like, but it will at least make you reconsider your stance. Transgendered people are one of the most marginalized groups in society. If the ignorant use of a derogatory word for them doesn’t prove that, I don’t know what will.

  5. Wes, you have the choice to educate, or to berate.

    One leads to better understanding of the issue you’re talking about, and the other makes you look like an uptight busy-body who’s hell-bent on making everybody else conform to your world view.

    The decision is yours.

  6. See, even after I explained that it was a slur, people are still continuing to use it (like you yourself – quotes or not, that was entirely inappropriate and I sincerely hope you don’t do that with slurs in general).

  7. Doesn’t matter if people “realize” that it’s a slur or not, just like it doesn’t matter if people “realize” that the n-word is a slur. A slur is a slur, and you are really showing your privilege by talking down to me right now.

    As an actual member of the transgender community, I think I would know what’s used against us to demean, degrade, and discount us, and that word is, point-blank, a slur commonly used against trans women.

  8. I haven’t been following this story for that long, but unless you can cite specific examples of posts currently on this site the moderation must be better than you think because I haven’t seen any of that here.

    …unless you’re just referring to the use of the word “tranny” which most people think is simply slang for “transsexual” and don’t realize is considered a slur by the trans community. I hate to be the one to break it to you, but for folks who aren’t familiar with trans culture (something like 90% of Americans) that word isn’t understood as being significantly offensive. Check some dictionaries online – most simply list it as being shorthand for transsexual and don’t list the word as being an offensive slur.

  9. People are flat-out using a slur against transgender people in several of these comments, some of which have been moderated but others, last time I checked (in the other post about this) were left in, and making comments comparing transgender people to serial killers, or saying that these surgeries are unnecessary for trans people (regardless of the budget aspect of Berkeley) and “special rights” in general – those are the things I’m calling transphobic.

  10. Wes, not everyone who disagrees with your position on this issue is transphobic.

    It’s not very fair of you to hide behind the epithet of “transphobic” to avoid acknowledging that the City of Berkeley probably shouldn’t start offering new benefits to employees when they $310 million dollars in the red on the benefits their employees already have.

    I have no problem with Berkeley City employees being eligible for gender reassignment surgery, but if they’re going to add a new benefit then they need to cut one somewhere else in order to avoid adding to the City’s mounting debt. To do otherwise would be irresponsible.

  11. My comment created confusion, so let me clarify with some details:

    In the example I provided, dental costs are paid at 50% of actual cost with a limited annual payout of $1000. Put into context, my dentist charges $1,107 for a crown (I need 4), but that annual cap of $1000 also has to include the basics — teeth cleaning, fluoride treatment, x-rays, (an at cost teeth cleaning and fluoride treatment is approx $147).

    So, while I’m being pinched and need to jump through flaming hoops with my dentist to have a “chance” at getting the insurance company to contribute, Berkeley is pushing to set aside funds for sex change operations. Yes, it’s just $20K, yes it’s a drop in the bucket of the Berkeley budget, but the Berkeley budget bucket leaks like a sieve and to fill up that bucket again, they go to the voters (most of whom don’t pay property taxes) and ask them to approve more property tax special assessments.

    I’m tired of constantly having the city’s hand in my wallet while I struggle to maintain a very modest 864sq/ft home and make ends meet at the same time.

    The attitude of “it’s only $20K” must end because that’s the same rationale that’s used for a variety of other things…it’s only a drop in the bucket here, a drop in the bucket there. After a while, all of those drops add up to hundreds of thousands and eventually millions of dollars. We need a focus on the basics in Berkeley and put into power a city government that pinches pennies rather than shoveling out money for every social cause that crosses their radar.

    In a time of fiscal austerity, you have to wonder what in the hell the city is thinking when it wants to expand benefits. How about cutting some government positions and bringing benefits into alignment with private sector?

  12. In the larger picture, those who have health care via their jobs, whether it’s public or private, have less at stake in pushing for a national health care system. That’s one reason why we don’t have one. And that’s why Walter Reuther, the UAW head, called for a national health care system in the 1940s instead of one attached to a job. I almost cried when I read Jarad’s comment that his health insurance pays 50% of his dental care. I’d take that coverage in a NY minute. Had I known how disastrous it would be to be self-employed given the costs of high-deductible health insurance ($12000/yr avg), out of pocket medical expenses ($6500/yr avg), and a 15.3% Soc. Sec. tax for a healthy family of 4, I would never have taken that path. This debate in our little burg is a perfect example of why our country needs a one-payer system that gives everyone the same benefits and structures the participation costs according to income.

  13. Again, this is $20,000 that is not guaranteed to be spent. It’s there in reserve, and if it’s used, it’s used. If not, it isn’t spent. This is actually a clever way to offer coverage without involving insurance companies.

    Remember, for all other health benefits the city & the employees PAY an insurance company. That money is GONE, no matter whether or not insurance services are used.

  14. Name Withheld: It’s because you had a bunch of links in that comment, which our algorithms interpret as spam. I’ve taken it out of the spam folder and approved it.

  15. “As this is not a life or death medical issue, these people can pay for it themselves.”

    Actually, this is a life or death medical issue. Many transgender people end up committing suicide because of the pain of being forced to live in a gender that they are not. Also, many transgender people are murdered because they cannot, to use a transphobic term, “pass” on the street. So, this is an incredibly huge issue.

    Also, almost all of the monetary issues people are bringing up that this money “should be spent on” are mere derails – $20,000 wouldn’t even be a drop in the bucket for most significant Berkeley city problems that need to be fixed.

    Also, Mathew Parker, what does the hillside strangler have to do with transgender people in general? You are pulling for strings out of some desperate anti-trans agenda, and making no sense in the process.

  16. I e-mailed my City Council representative, and got a decent response from them on this issue. I believe that we disagree on it, but if enough people e-mail or call their City Council representatives, their opinions might change.

    I’ll be interested to see how my City Council representative votes in February 15th, because how they vote on this issue will decide how I vote in the next election for City Council.

  17. Do you ever see the legions of compassion like Kamlargesse, Master Bates or Darryl”who am I ” Moore actually cough up some money for this “person” who needs a sex change. No. Or Shirley,”Hillside Side Strangler” Dean?
    Do these guys do anything except slam the middle class for more gravytrain benefits. Does business want to come here and add to revenue- since Bates and Co. Jump down their throats for payola?
    Moore is a pathetic hack- when ou call him on getting rid of hookers on San Pablo you might get a dissertation on World politics. Don’t bother Moore is mostly Less with reality.
    They have big fatty pensions.
    They steal from the taxpayer.
    They help shovel money to people in the government who donate to their campaigns.

  18. This kitty for transgender money is just part of the racketeering business of the City employees and the marginally useful Tom Bates.
    I like how the Transgender people can:
    1) plea that they are normal people with normal problems in normal discourse
    2) claim a handicap when they need to filch the money

    As this is not a life or death medical issue, these people can pay for it themselves. Nobody has this benefit and the people who pay these slacker city employees don’t get 1/10th the benefits they enjoy. And now its some obscure procedure added. No wonder health insurance is getting ridiculous!
    The city has truly jumped the shark on reality on this one. This measue is so wacky, out of tune to the city’s budget reality and obviously shows why a good portion of the city voters just flat out hate their mayor, reps and employees.
    Because I guess being progressive means you have to pee money down a rathole at every step.
    And yes, the potholes on Ashby are as bumpy as the logic of some of the proponents of this free gravy train money.
    So, the City just took out 600 million in total bond liabilities for schools in a muni bond crash, is about 13 million out of budget, has massive and exponential benefits and pension liabilities coming up in 2013 and the schools are still ratholes, the roads are a mess and the toen is riddled with crime and invited homelessness.
    But, hey, if we can make 3 people happy in the government class then I guess they have done their job.

  19. I sympathize with those that feel they were born the wrong gender, but I take issue with the city offering ANY additional benefits to city employees when it can’t cover it’s pension liabilities, when it can’t control of the crime problem, when it can’t make the city a hospitable environment to keep business within city limits, when it can’t fully staff the fire department, when it can’t improve the level of education in city schools, when sewers overflow, potholes in streets wreak havoc on car suspensions…etc.

    Offering ANY additional benefit to city employees is yet ANOTHER example of government that is out of touch with the people it is collecting taxes from.

    Many of us working in the private sector suffered through 10% mandatory salary cuts in 2009 & part of 2010 as a fallout from the recession (city workers took a paltry 5% cut several months after the private sector took action), private sector workers have been forced to swallow larger medical co-payments and medical insurance premiums, lack of employer contributions to 401K retirement savings plans, while at the same time being asked every damned election to swallow additional special property tax assessments because government LOVES to spend other people’s money!

    It’s so bad in many parts of the private sector that you need to collude with your dentist to make sure that the insurance pays for a medically necessary crown — but since it’s only paid for at 50% of the cost, you have to set aside additional resources to ensure you get your teeth fixed, yet Berkeley wants to pay for gender reassignment surgery. Does anyone besides me see something wrong with this picture?!

    Most of us in the private sector can’t even dream of getting remotely close to the extravagant benefits packages offered to City of Berkeley government workers. From my perspective, this issue is a clear indication that city government is completely out of touch with the very people they are taxing to pay for an obvious spending problem and an outrageous addiction to new property tax assessments used to pay for every social cause on the face of the earth.

    There comes a point where common sense has to prevail and the out of control tax and spend attitude of Berkeley government has to come to an end. What Berkeley government has actively done for years is contribute to the stratification of society in Berkeley — which is to say, with each additional benefit the city gives to employees, they are using everyone’s tax dollars to widen the divide between the “haves” and the “have-nots” or to put it more simply, they are creating a ruling class with extra privileges and benefits that are unobtainable outside of a government position.

    Darryl Moore, Phil Kamlarz, & the rest of the city government need to get back to the basics and reacquaint themselves with 2 words that go hand in hand with a $310 million dollar unfunded pension liability — “Fiscal Austerity.”

  20. DC: I agree to an extent, hence my saying it’s not beyond reproach. My point is to emphasize that it’s a lack of familiarity and comfort that makes this such a fraught issue. To my knowledge, no other healthcare benefit has been subject, so far, to quite the same scrutiny as this one.

  21. Eric: I would still have an issue with that. At a time when many people in Berkeley – our council’s constituents – are struggling just to get basic or minimal health care, having benefits far in excess of that provided at most private employers should not be a given assumption. The money has to come from somewhere. I agree those other things are equally or more important, but you still just can’t fund everything under the sun.

  22. Having funds for gender reassignment surgery is not beyond reproach. The problem is that there are other low-hanging fruit in terms of cost-saving for the city that offer much, much higher returns. Because gender reassignment is something viewed as unusual, elective, or somehow “other” it gets singled out. What about six-figure pensions? Or how exactly the rent board spends its seven-figure budget? Or free YMCA membership for all employees? Or how an anti-growth posture deprives Berkeley of millions in tax revenue? These are just a few examples of things that make more sense to investigate from a dollars-and-cents perspective. But instead, people are crying foul over $20k for medical treatments with which they are not entirely comfortable. If this money were going to a fund for, say, grief counseling, emergency childcare, or plugging some other hole in insurance coverage, I doubt much of anyone would have batted an eye. At the very least, I don’t think it would be so readily dismissed.

  23. Transgendered folks have every right to get whatever surgery they feel necessary to live their lives as they see fit to the best of their abilities. I support them in whatever they choose to do and wish them on the best.

    But while I support their rights, I don’t think that spending City funds on gender reassignment surgery is a wise use of taxpayer dollars. The City of Berkeley is already unable to meet their general obligations and keeps asking voters for more and more money. Where are they going to get the money to pay for this fund? What are they going to do to ensure that transgendered individuals don’t get city jobs in order to get free gender reassignment surgery and then quit as soon as they’re done?

    Discussing the horrible condition of Berkeley roads, the urban blight on Shattuck, and the mud-filled public swimming pools as part of this issue isn’t a false dichotomy. Public works are what taxpayer funds are supposed to be supporting, and if the City of Berkeley cannot take care of their basic business they shouldn’t be diverting money into special funds like this.

  24. Very sad to hear how little has changed for victims in those situations.

    It is definitely a goal of mine to keep the discourse about gender variance issues going throughout my life, even when I’ve been on hormones long enough for no one to possibly be able to tell that I am transgender, because I want to do whatever I can to make life easier for other trans people both now and in the future. I wish more people would do the same.

  25. Your welcome, Wes.

    I have been pleasantly surprised by some main stream TV coverage of the struggles and challenges of transgender folks. One of my sons was targeted with gender harassment in Berkeley schools, I was appalled at the indifference of staff, and the low expectations for cultural change. Some of the policies in BUSD are the result of my efforts, but little has actually change for the targets of gender harassment.

  26. Thanks, Laura.

    I actually didn’t know that it was considered well-known about Berkeley culture being somewhat harsh, since so often when people find out I’m a trans guy and live in Berkeley, their first comment is, “You’re so lucky to live in such a liberal and welcoming environment,” even though I’ve felt much more welcomed in cities that have less of a liberal reputation.

    I actually did not hear about that specific BHS incident – was that a trans person who was being harassed? Yikes.

    I definitely don’t think every comment was made by a bigot in that last thread, but the person who used the t-word, I would definitely consider to be one. I’m very glad that Berkeleyside decided to moderate them.

  27. Wes,

    I do not disagree, we would have to ensure that such treatment was included. The list of disorders and serious disease that currently are not covered by insurance companies or government safety net coverage that are considered standards for treatment is astounding.

    you are not alone is this regard.

    secondly, you are right, Berkeley is not the kindest or gentlest place, it is well known that Berkeley culture is rather harsh.

    I am sympathize about your assertion about the stigma against trans-gender folks, it likely greater than gay bashing, remember the ugly and horrific incident with BHS students harassing someone on Shattuck. I just do not think that the comments prove those individuals are bigots, blog posting and email for that matter has limitations in communicating complex thoughts and feelings.

  28. This is a basic standard of care. If you’re not transgender, then you are already in the right gender and you don’t need the surgeries to begin with. Nothing is more basic in life than gender. People truly need to realize their perspective in this if they are cisgender (meaning, not transgender – kind of like the word “straight” about sexual orientation).

    And, if you disagree that some comments on that other post were transphobic, that’s simply incorrect – the latest series literally used a slur against trans people (though I am told those will be amended via moderation as slurs are not welcome here). It is for trans people to decide whether something is transphobic, not the people with privilege in the situation.

    It is easy for people who are not transgender to say that these surgeries are just “something extra that trans people should have to pay for themselves,” but I can tell you firsthand, every single second of every single day until those surgeries happen is painful, much moreso than any other medical condition I’ve ever had (and I’ve been in the hospital, had other necessary medical surgeries, etc). You simply can’t even begin to imagine the trauma it inflicts to be forced to live as a gender you are not, if you’re not transgender. Be thankful that you were born into/perceived as the gender that you truly are, and let those who were not achieve the incredibly basic status of being in the right gender.

    It would be like me saying “x disease treatment is unnecessary, because I don’t have x disease! Therefore, from my outside perspective, it seems like x disease must be easy enough to live with. People who have it should have to pay for any treatment necessary themselves.” If you are not transgender, again, you just cannot begin to imagine how necessary treatment is.

    Being transgender is completely stigmatized in society, and that just makes the already terrible position even harder to be in when people try to put obstacles in the way of fixing any aspect of it one can. Instead of being mad that money is spent to ease a medical condition (which, quite frankly, is upsetting to think about), people should be thankful they don’t have said condition and don’t need said operations.

    I hope at least one person will read this and realize that trans people are just as legitimate and in need of treatment as anyone else with a serious, life-affecting condition.

  29. All American should receive a basic standard of care with affordable insurance coverage, any addition medical services should be paid out of pocket tax free administrated with HSA.

    The sooner this logic is applied by policy makers, the sooner will can see some resemblance of fairness.

    I disagree that comments in any way expressed transgenderphobia. The issues of fairness in taxation and assess to medical treatment or even coverage are far more nuance and complicated than blaming bigotry or bias.

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