BY STEVE ROTHAUS
Miami Beach commissioners Wednesday voted to provide city employees with transgender healthcare insurance, making the Beach one of only 5 percent of all U.S. cities and municipalities to offer the benefit and the first in Florida.
“That’s something that really puts Miami Beach in the forefront in Florida for transgender rights,” said trans-rights activist and resident Aryah Lester. “For that to happen here shows Miami Beach is pushing forward, period, for equality.”
Beginning in October, transgender Beach employees will be insured for treatments including gender-reassignment surgery, hormone and psychological therapy. Voice therapy and cosmetic procedures including hair removal would not be covered.
“It would cover the transition from male to female, female to male,” said Thomas Barker, chairman of Miami Beach’s GLBT Business Enhancement Committee, which lobbied for the insurance. “The commission has directed the city manager’s office to provide transgender healthcare benefits in the next open enrollment.”
Transgender surgeries from 2001 through 2008 in the U.S. cost an average of $10,400 for male to female; $17,000 for female to male, according to Williams Institute at the University of California law school. “These figures are based on 740 male to female surgeries and 430 female to male surgeries, providing an average combined cost of $12,900 per surgery,” according to a commission memo from City Manager Jimmy Morales.
“These healthcare costs aren’t more expensive than pregnancy or cardiac care or any other number of health care costs that are expensive but critical,” said Cathryn Oakley of Human Rights Campaign (HRC) of Washington, D.C., the nation’s largest LGBT-rights group.
Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and Commissioner Joy Malakoff the entire commission supported the policy change, which passed unanimously. Commissioner Edward Tobin was absent.
“Our city is really pro LGBT. It’s important for us not to be pro LGBT by word, but more importantly by action,” Levine said after the commission meeting. “Miami Beach, we want to make it the most progressive, pragmatic in America. These types of initiatives are part of that vision and our mandate.”
Also Wednesday, Levine sponsored a motion that Miami Beach support same-sex couples seeking to marry or have their out-of-state marriages recognized in Florida.
No other cities in Florida offer transgender healthcare benefits, according to the annual Municipal Equality Index published by HRC. “It’s an elite universe,” said Oakley, HRC’s legislative counsel for state and municipal advocacy, who authors the index.
The report, ranking 291 major American cities, has been published since 2012. Miami Beach was not included in the first two indexes, infuriating LGBT civic leaders. The business enhancement committee completed its own survey this year and self-submitted it. In April, HRC awarded the city a perfect score.
In the first two years of the index, transgender-inclusive healthcare benefits were not mandatory for a municipality to receive a perfect score. Beginning in 2014, they will be, Oakley said.
“Which means cities will now be dinged for not having them,” she said.
Now, Miami Beach is on its way to another perfect score.
“It’s something that is so amazing to me. It’s needed and long overdue,” Lester said. “It’s less of a struggle to just live as a person in the community.”