City Set To Offer Sex-Change Employee Benefit - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

City Set To Offer Sex-Change Employee Benefit

SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE: While other cities are slashing employee benefits, Berkeley is slated to add one more: paying for sex-change operations.

The City Council is poised to vote tonight to set aside $20,000 annually for city workers' gender-reassignment surgery. The procedure is not covered by the city's two health insurance providers, Kaiser and Health Net.

"We offer all kinds of benefits to our employees. This brings our benefits in line with what's just and fair for the transgender community," said City Councilman Darryl Moore, who originally proposed the idea in 2007.

The benefit would allow employees to collect the money before the operation. To receive the payout, employees would have to have lived as the opposite sex for at least one year and undergone hormone therapy. They also would have to have worked for the city at least a year.

The city would dole out the $20,000 on a first-come, first-served basis. The money would not accrue from year to year; it would stay indefinitely at $20,000.

The amount should cover at least part of the surgery costs, which range from $7,000 to more than $50,000, according to surgery and transgender information websites.

No insurance

The city initially asked its two health insurance providers to include sex-change surgery in their coverage for city employees. But Kaiser doesn't provide the service, and Health Net said premiums for the entire staff would increase substantially if sex-change operations were included.

So the city decided to provide payment to employees directly.

"I support the staff's solution here," City Councilman Gordon Wozniak said. "It's not a lot of money to set aside for something that's rarely going to happen."

The city has about 1,500 employees, and at least a few have recently inquired about sex-reassignment surgery, Moore said.

Some Berkeley residents oppose the idea, saying the city should be spending more time and money on basic services, such as road repair.

Opposing view

"How come I'm paying for this?" said Ann Slaby, a former zoning commissioner. "There might be some people who really need this, but right now my street badly needs paving."

Compared to other cities, Berkeley has been spared the worst of the recession. Its housing market remains mostly stable, and the council has not inflicted the drastic cuts experienced in neighboring communities. It will also dodge the hardship of losing redevelopment funds, because the city rarely relies on that money.

Still, Berkeley has its share of financial woes. A hiring freeze continues at City Hall, and taxes and fees continue to inch up. The council is having a special meeting today on its unfunded pension liability, which is $252 million, according to a report by the city auditor.

Berkeley isn't the first city to offer sex-change surgery to its workers. San Francisco started offering the benefit in 2001.

"We're later than San Francisco, but we still try to be on the forefront of policies to promote people's understanding of same-sex issues," said City Councilman Max Anderson. "It's OK if it's controversial. We're willing to push the envelope a little bit."

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