'It's wonderful': Community reacts to news B.C. will offer gender-affirming lower surgeries

Previously, those seeking the surgery had to travel to Montreal or out of the country altogether.

Previously, patients needed to travel to Montreal or out of country

Gwen Haworth had gender affirming surgery in the early 2000s, but had to travel to Quebec to receive it. (CBC)

Nearly two decades ago, Vancouverite Gwen Haworth travelled to Montreal for gender affirming surgery. 

Not only was she far from the support of her loved ones, it also cost her an estimated $35,000 out of her own pocket. 

Until now, travelling was the only choice for many patients, as the private Quebec clinic was the only clinic in the country offering lower surgeries.  

The government announced today that will change next year, with reconstructive lower surgery for transgender people soon becoming available in British Columbia.

"It's wonderful. As someone who has accessed gender affirming care, and working with community members, I realize how significant this is going to be to have care closer to home for people," Haworth said. 

Health Minister Adrian Dix announced Friday that B.C. would begin offering lower gender surgeries next year. (CBC)

Health Minister Adrian Dix says the trans community has advocated for a number of years for improved access to care in B.C. for the complex surgeries.

Up until now, some wanting surgery even travelled to the United States, which Dix says resulted in additional medical risks associated with travelling long distances after surgery and with follow-up care.

"This is about bringing care closer to home," Dix said at a press conference Friday morning.

The Health Ministry says gender-affirming surgery will be available at Vancouver Coastal Health starting next year and trans people will also have improved access to publicly funded chest and breast surgeries throughout the province.

Fourteen surgeons will provide the latter surgeries in Burnaby, Kamloops, Kelowna, Port Moody, Prince George, Vancouver and Victoria.

Dix says B.C. is the first province in Western Canada to provide both MTF and FTM lower surgeries.

The government says about 100 people travel out of the province for such surgeries every year and about 200 chest and breast surgeries are expected to take place in B.C. in the coming year.

'This will make the difference'

Dr. Karina Zeidler says the government's move will make a big difference to her patients. (CBC)

Family physican Dr. Karina Zeidler said it's the announcement the community has been waiting for. 

When Zeidler joined the South Hill Family Health Centre in 2014, she sought out patients with diverse gender needs. Many of her patients have considered  gender affirming surgeries.

"For a lot of people, I think that this will make the difference between having the surgery versus not having been able to have the surgery up until now for a whole number of different kind of barrier reasons," Zeidler said. 

Cost, distance and stress were just some concerns Zeidler said her patients had. 

She says she hopes the government's move will mean schools like the University of British Columbia will start offering more dedicated teaching about gender diversity. 

About the Author

Micki Cowan

Reporter/producer

Micki is a reporter and producer at CBC Vancouver. Her passions are municipal issues and water security.