Vanderbilt to pay for sex-change surgeries

Critics say schools that get federal funds should not spend money on unnecessary medical procedure.

Gay rights advocates consider Southern universities one of the final frontiers in achieving acceptance for pro-LGBTQ healthcare policies. That is why advocates are celebrating Vanderbilt University’s decision in early June to cover transgender-related surgeries under its student insurance plan.

Vanderbilt is far from the first university to approve such a policy. It joins a group of 71 other American colleges and universities that opted in the last several years to pay for students to undergo transgender-related surgeries. Other schools with similar policies include Ivy League universities and many state schools north of the Mason-Dixon Line.

Vanderbilt officials responsible for the decision said the health coverage addition caused little debate and was the next logical step in the university’s goal to create a safe place for transgender students.

“It was relatively non-controversial on our side,” Cynthia Cyrus, vice provost for learning and residential affairs at Vanderbilt, told the Tennessean. “It was maybe a two-paragraph conversation, not deeply debated in any way.”

But U.S. Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn., voiced her disapproval.

“Let’s be honest, this decision is not about the health and wellbeing of Vanderbilt University students,” she said in a statement. “Our institutions of higher learning exist … not to play politics by providing insurance coverage of medically unnecessary procedures while raking in federal grants.”

For the last several years, Vanderbilt has covered hormone therapy for transgender students, provided gender-neutral housing, and added “they” to the student handbook as a single-person pronoun alongside “he” and “she.”

Transgender-related surgeries include sexual reassignment and physical characteristic alterations such as breast reduction or implants.

Vanderbilt’s decision comes in the wake of a May ruling from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that stops just short of requiring healthcare plans to pay for gender transition. The Obama administration claims it is trying to protect individuals from healthcare discrimination based on gender identity and sex stereotyping, among other things.

For now, religious organizations are not required to apply any part of the rule violating their religious practices or conscience.

The Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) said court precedence will protect Christian colleges and universities from being forced to cover medical services for students that violate their religious beliefs.

“The Supreme Court just affirmed in the Little Sisters of the Poor case that religious organizations, like CCCU institutions, should not have to include provisions in their healthcare plans that contradict their religious beliefs,” said Shapri LoMaglio, vice president for government and external relations at the CCCU. “We will advise our schools that the same principle applies here.”

On the same day the HHS issued its ruling, President Barack Obama sent his transgender bathroom directive to every public school across the nation. The letter instructed schools to allow students to use the bathroom of their self-identified choice, rather than their biological sex.

— by Sarah Wedel

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