Op-ed: Ontario’s health care crisis is worse for the trans community

Ontario's health care crisis has been exacerbated by the pandemic, but a buckling health care system will hurt marginalized communities the most


The Trans march at Toronto Pride, June 24, 2022.
Trans March at Toronto Pride 2022, photographed by Nick Lachance.

Hospitals and health experts across Ontario are calling out a health crisis that’s steadily getting worse. From geriatric to paediatric care, the future and quality of our universal public health care is facing more threats than ever. Since COVID debuted, the health care crisis is subjecting all Ontarians to long waits, poor access to physicians, and worsening health care outcomes ⁠– challenges trans and gender-diverse Ontarians know all too well.

Real and full access to life-saving health care has been inaccessible and unfunded for trans, gender-diverse and non-binary people since the dawn of public health care in Canada. Ontario’s health care crisis has been exacerbated by the pandemic, but a buckling health care system will hurt marginalized communities the most. 

This is something I think about especially as the Member of Provincial Parliament for the largest 2SLGBTQ community in Canada ⁠– and the first person in the Ontario Legislative Assembly who uses they and them pronouns. It is why this week, before the Trans Day of Awareness on November 20, I am tabling a private member’s bill: the Gender Affirming Health Care Advisory Committee Act.

The bill would have the Minister of Health establish an expert committee made up of health care professionals, diverse members of the transgender, two-Spirit, non-binary, intersex and gender diverse communities and others she believed would make useful contributions. The committee would make public recommendations to the Minister to improve access and coverage for gender-affirming health care. The Minister and government could then be held accountable for taking vital steps to realize accessible and competent gender-affirming health care. 

This exact bill was tabled once before by my predecessor, Suze Morrison, but it was quashed when the Doug Ford government chose to delay its passage before the June provincial election. This delay is extending the deeply embedded pain and oftentimes deadly transphobia for the foreseeable future. 

The health care crisis has been a permanent fixture of the trans experience in Ontario. Trans Health Ontario reports that 45 per cent of trans people report having one or more unmet healthcare needs and more than half rated their mental health as fair to poor. Already 40 per cent of trans people experience discrimination while accessing healthcare services. This is not surprising because 47 per cent of trans Ontarians live on less than $29,000 a year. Discrimination underlies these statistics ⁠– discrimination that gender-affirming health care could significantly lessen. 

Trans Ontarians have told me that there is wide-spread fear in the trans community that they could be threatened by trends in the United States. Currently 72 per cent of U.S. states have cumulatively 300 proposed bills that directly attack trans and gender diverse peoples’ human rights. These concerted efforts to dehumanize the trans community are strategically selected by right-wing zealots to distract from their blatantly racist, anti-poor and anti-worker agenda.

Like increasing white supremacist hate crimes, bigoted rhetoric and strategies can very easily spread to Canada. Ontario can stand against these trends and with trans Ontarians by realizing accessible gender-affirming health care.

In Canada, publicly funded health care is a source of national pride. Its history began in 1947 when Premier Tommy Douglas of Saskatchewan, widely recognized as the father of Medicare, introduced the first hospital insurance program. Before then health care in Canada was privately delivered and funded. Those with money were looked after and those without got sicker and died prematurely.

The fight to expand health care access has been fought in waves to ensure more universal access to more and more Canadians. Starting with Saskatchewan and with each province and then territories joining subsequently a public-funded national health care program was established. Medicare was guided by the values of public administration, comprehensiveness, universality, portability and accessibility. These pillars have never been universally experienced by trans and gender diverse Canadians. 

The timely passing of my private member’s bill will be the first step in reversing a health care system that had abandoned select Ontarians. If the Premier and Minister of Health are serious about fixing the health care system, then they can demonstrate their support by allowing the expedited passage of my bill with all-party unanimous consent and support. 

This government needs to act now. They can show that universally accessible health care and trans human rights are not up for debate. Representatives in our government could show up to Trans Day of Remembrance events with real pride, having tangibly passed a law that helps our community.  

Kristyn Wong-Tam is the Member of Provincial Parliament for Toronto Centre and the Ontario NDP Official Opposition Critic for 2SLGBTQ Issues. 

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