Torey Carrick, a member of the Board of Governors for the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), noticed something about Long Beach's perfect score on the HRC's Municipality Equality Index (MEI): it wasn't quite so perfect. But the City has taken one more step in doing that by offering trans-inclusive health benefits for City employees.
The HRC unveiled its 2012 MEI scores for the first time with the rankings of specific cities. The index included all state capitols, the nation's 50 largest cities, and the 25 largest, mid-size, and small cities with the highest proportion of gay couples, measuring each on the ability to provide equal rights and legalities towards members of the LGBT community.
The scoring—that left Long Beach with a score of 102—included bonus points, hence the scores of certain cities exceeding 100.
"As I looked at other cities who scored higher, I had to ask myself, 'Where have we left points on the table?'" Carrick said. "One of those areas was trans-inclusive healthcare (TIH) and I knew—being a huge supporter of the trans community—that we could do something."
Being involved with HRC directly, Carrick understood that—as time progressed—these "bonus points" would no longer be bonus points but part of the raw scoring as the MEI continues each year. As the need for rights increases, the scoring becomes more rigorous.
Carrick then approached Porter Gilberg, Administrative Director of The Center and a longtime transgender advocate and activist.
"The Center has long been involved in working with the HRC on a number of initiatives," Gilberg said. "Given we work with Torey and his partner [Jeff Anderson] often, it was a natural fit. And even more, we wanted to make sure Long Beach got a perfect-perfect score the next time around."
Wrangling in the legal knowledge of the Transgender Law Center based in San Francisco and the political power of Vice Mayor Robert Garcia, Carrick and Gilberg were determined to join the ranks of cities such as San Francisco and Berkeley in having trans-inclusive healthcare on the municipal level.
One of the first hurdles discovered was the fact that CALPERS, at the time, had no extension of TIH—and Long Beach is the largest entity enrolled in CALPERS. This explained why LGBT-centric cities like West Hollywood didn't receive a higher score as well: even with the City wishing to extend TIH, CALPERS presented a wall. However, that changed with a historic vote on June 19 of this year, as the Board of CALPERS voted to implement TIH on all of their health plans, effective January 1 of next year.
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The next hurdle was Long Beach itself and with the work of Garcia and City Manager Pat West, August 2 marks the memo (regard below) that officially sanctioned TIH as part of the health benefits package offered to all City employees. As to when the benefits will be tangible is still up in the air, as the City has to work with Anthem Blue Cross, its direct healthcare provider, to implement the approved benefits.
"This is the direction that all healthcare providers—public and private—are heading," emphasized Gilberg. "The work of this initiative would not have been possible without the dedication of the Transgender Law Center and particularly Vice Mayor Garcia—he was absolutely essential in helping this move forward."
The move is a major relief to those within the trans community, a community that is one of the most misunderstood in the country.
"The biggest misconception is that trans-related medical care is just voluntary cosmetic surgery," Gilberg said. "TIH is more than just surgery as some of the members of the trans community are denied basic, common care because they are trans."
For example, Gilberg noted, the Transgender Law Center cited a case where a trans-man was denied care after breaking his leg. The justification? His hormone treatment exacerbated his chance of bone injury.
"Ensuring that trans members receive basic emergency and mental care is not 'special treatment'—it's basic dignity," Gilberg said. "Not all those under the trans umbrella opt for gender confirming hormones and/or surgery. It's about the difference between living a life where one can step out comfortably, where they won't feel anguish by and through their medical provider, and they can step out into the world as they deserve to be seen."
Gilberg also emphasized, outside of noting that TIH is vital for well-being, that Long Beach now poises itself as a vastly more competitive player in the recruitment of professional talent.
"This initiative says, 'Long Beach welcomes who you are and your talent,'" Gilberg said. "It says, 'We want you to be happy and healthy and contribute to our City.'"