Gender surgeries a matter of life and death, not cosmetic, says N.L. man

Blair Curtis of McIvers has filed a complaint with the province's Human RIghts Commission, saying the province needs more coverage and lower wait times.

Blair Curtis files complaint with Human Rights Commission, says coverage and wait times are unacceptable

Blair Curtis says wait times and protocols required for gender surgery is not acceptable. He has filed a complaint with the province's Human Rights Commission. (Jennifer Grudic/CBC)

A transgender man fighting for changes to the high cost and long wait times for gender surgery in Newfoundland and Labrador has filed a complaint with the provincial Human Rights Commission.

Blair Curtis of McIvers says this province lags behind the rest of the country in providing effective and easy access to trans people seeking surgery.

We didn't choose to be put into the bodies that we're put into. - Blair Curtis

Those looking for gender modification must be recommended by Gender Identity Clinic at the Centre for Addictions and Mental Health in Toronto. Without that recommendation, MCP will not cover the cost of the procedures.

Curtis says that's simply not fair.

"There's definitely psychologists or psychiatrists here in Newfoundland that could perform an assessment in the first place," said Curtis. "But I don't understand why we even need an evaluation. It's not fair just because we're trans that we have to go through it."

There's harm in waiting: Blair

Curtis began hormone treatment last year and is scheduled for surgery in May, a journey that has been considerably shorter than most. The average wait times for transgender procedures can stretch into years.

It's an issue, he said, that's more than just inconvenient — it's often a matter of life and death.

"For a lot of trans people, their mental health is really impacted by not being able to have access to these surgeries," said Curtis. "Those who can't wait could end up doing something to harm themselves.

"That's why we're trying to cut back on the wait list to try to take away the CAMH evaluation."

According to the Canadian Trans Youth Health Survey, a national survey conducted in 2017 by the University of British Columbia, close to 70 per cent of trans youth had considered suicide within the previous 12 months, a statistic that far exceeds the national average.

Curtis said that how Newfoundland and Labrador's Medical Care Plan defines transgenderism doesn't help either.

Also started petition

"They shouldn't state that we have a sex disorder when we don't. It makes you feel like you're less than a cisgender person because they're classifying part of your identity as being a disorder."

In addition to the human rights complaint, Curtis has also started a petition and hopes to have it presented in the House of Assembly in March.

"We're trying to gain as many signatures as we can to show the government that it's not just trans people that think these surgeries should be covered," said Curtis. "There's many people, like allies, their parents, their friends and family that also believe it should be."

Blair Curtis, left, and Gerry-Lynn Curtis started the support group Parents of Trans and Gender Diverse Kids last year. The west coast group offers assistance to families working through trans issues. (Brian McHugh/CBC)

Curtis is not new to being an advocate for trans rights in this province. Last year, he and his mother, Gerry-Lynn, began Parents of Trans and Gender Diverse Kids, a support group for parents on Newfoundland and Labrador's west coast working through trans issues.

For Curtis, giving trans people better access to gender surgery is an essential human right and one he will continue to fight for, even after his surgery is complete.

"We didn't choose to be put into the bodies that we're put into," said Curtis. "It's not a matter of being cosmetic or elective. We need these surgeries so our bodies match what we know they should be like."

"To not have these would be devastating."

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