SALT LAKE CITY — LGBTQ advocates praised Salt Lake City leaders' announcement Friday that the city will now begin offering employees health care coverage for sex reassignment surgeries.
"One of the questions our community asks most often is: 'Where can I find an affirming employer?' Trans folks face immense barriers in health care and employment, and we are thrilled to see Salt Lake City taking steps to reduce those obstacles for our community," said Becca Green, with the Transgender Education Advocates of Utah.
Chris Jensen, Utah Pride Center board chairman, said gender affirmative care is "lifesaving" and that the organization hopes other cities, counties, organizations and businesses "will do the same."
"We at the Utah Pride Center, are proud of Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall and the Salt Lake City Council in providing mental health and additional gender-affirming health care coverage to city employees who are transgender," Jensen said in a statement to KSL.com.
In a video posted to social media, Mendenhall said: "During Pride this week, I am excited to share that we are making another step in our support of trans people by adding gender-affirming surgery to our health care coverage for our covered employees and their eligible dependents."
Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah, also expressed thanks to the mayor and City Council, who he said have "time and again demonstrated unwavering love and support to the LGBTQ community."
"They are sending a powerful message to their transgender employees that they are loved and accepted as their full, authentic selves. We applaud this compassionate and inclusive decision," Williams said.
Councilwoman Amy Fowler explained in the video that the city is "committed to taking big steps toward greater equity and inclusion for all of our residents, and we're just as committed to pursuing what is right for our city employees."
Pointing to research, Fowler also called gender-affirming support and health care for transgender individuals "lifesaving."
"In 2015, Salt Lake City began offering mental health coverage and hormone replacement coverage as part of our benefits package for transgender employees. We were one of the first public employers to offer those services, and they have proven to be essential," Councilman Chris Wharton said.
Councilman Darin Mano said the city "believes that trans health care is a right."
"Options for the community should be a part of regular health care coverage, and we are proud to offer this benefit to our valued city team," Mano said.
Many health plans exclude services related to a sex reassignment or gender confirmation surgery from coverage, according to the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
The news comes after a series of emotional debates during the 2021 session of the Utah Legislature about transgender children in school sports, as well as gender-affirming care for children. A bill that would have barred transgender female athletes on girls sports teams at public schools failed to pass, as well as a bill that sought to prohibit doctors from performing gender reassignment treatments on minors.