Thursday, March 19, 2009

Conversation with my company's HR

I had a meeting today with one of the high-ups in my company’s Human Resources (HR). I wanted to talk about insurance stuff and policy stuff. Specifically, I wanted to raise 2 issues with him: I wanted the phrase “gender identity and expression” added to the clauses in the non-discrimination policy, and I wanted to get medical expenses covered. Sweety and I were hoping that we could talk the company into covering the expenses of my facial feminization surgery, currently penciled in on our schedule for mid August.

I started with the easy one – “gender identity and expression”. He told me right off that they’re about to launch a new Diversity webpage within the company, and the draft page, which he pulled up on his computer, shows “gender and gender identity” as one of the items on the list along with all the other standard stuff. And they’ll be adding it to all the other appropriate spots in the policies.

They’re also developing a set of guidelines for transitioning employees, their managers and departments. This won’t be actual policy, and I agree I don’t think it needs to be, but it will be official corporate guidelines, and any harassment is covered under the anti-harassment clauses.

So, all that’s pretty good. I’m happy with that resolution.

Next up, insurance coverage, where the big $$$ are.

I made my pitch, that more companies are covering trans medical costs (see HRC’s Corporate Equality Index). Many big companies now cover the whole shebang – Microsoft and IBM and some of the aerospace companies. (My company is in an odd category – we’re called an FFRDC – Federally Funded Research and Development Corporation. We’re a not-for-profit, we’re not government, but we’re not really a private company either. Anyway, we’re not considered an actual part of the Federal government. There are only a handful of FFRDCs around the country. ). I told him that the AMA has come out recommending that all insurance companies should be covering trans-related expenses. Unfortunately, neither the Federal government nor any state government to my knowledge covers trans-related medical stuff yet.

However, this AMA statement is key. This puts the trans stuff in a different category than other “elective” procedures. Insurance routinely doesn’t cover cosmetic surgery, because it’s “elective”. That’s why folks can’t get insurance to pay for new noses or boob jobs. It’s “elective” – you didn’t really need that, you just wanted it. But now (actually, last year), the AMA has come out and clearly moved transgender procedures out of the “elective” category, which is part of recommending that the insurance companies start paying for them. The AMA statement was clearly focused on transgender procedures, so, cosmetic surgery with no trans aspects will still be considered “elective” and excluded from most insurance coverage.

So, he was receptive, and liked the arguments. I asked, we’ll probably be covering these expenses 20 years from now, right? And he agreed. So, I said, we’re just talking about when, aren’t we?

I also made the point that, after August, I’d be willing to serve as a transgender liaison with HR for other folks who are trans in the company. And regardless, I’ll be asking for these benefits every year. He seemed quite okay with that.

Bill has been in HR for a long time, and was apparently behind the proposal to get same-sex couples here covered under company insurance. That apparently went into effect a year or two ago, but it took them 2 or 3 years to get it all the way through corporate levels. Yes, there are conservatives up there, and I guess this stuff bothers them. Eventually, they’ll die off, that’s my theory. The question is whether you can change some of their minds sooner. Maybe yes, maybe no. (Firesign Theater, album: “How Can You Be In Two Places At Once When You’re Not Anywhere At All”, story: “The Further Adventures of Nick Danger” – quiz: what character said that line?)

Anyway, I was pretty nervous going in, but I had all my material, printouts I left with Bill, and we got to know one another a bit. Bill is African-American, and understands that there are similarities here in terms of equal rights for a minority. And trans folk are definitely the minority in a minority.

So, it looks like the company won’t be covering my expenses later this year. However, I’m the first person to have brought up the topic of transgender health insurance coverage with the company, and now they’re thinking about it, so, that’s something. Yay me. I’m sure they’ll eventually be covering trans medical expenses, the question is when. And I did get some real progress – they’re adding “gender identity” to the official policy, and pretty soon too.

No, correction: they’ve already added “gender identity” to the official definition of Diversity, and it’s being added into policies very soon. So, we have one more company that recognizes "gender identity" as important.

Enough for one day. I need a glass of wine.

Cheers, everyone

1 comment:

  1. hi Judith,
    Congrads on the progress at your company. I wonder if it would not be to much of a hassle if you could forests the information that you gave to your company on both the insurance and including gender identify into there policy. Currently my company does not include gender identify in there policy, but was told by a lesbian executive that I was still protected, but I would prefer that gender identity be included. As far as insurance, I looked at our covered items and trans related items are not mentioned, but did notice that they do cover same sex partners, so I'd like to work on getting that covered if possible. That's for any help that you can provide.