The pressure has worked. Starting in January 2015, the department’s largest health plan, the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program, will see an end to exclusion of transgendered individuals. This particular program is run by the American Foreign Service Protective Association (AFSPA) and covers 57,000 State and Defense Department employees, both active and retired, as well as their families. In total, it includes 31 percent of the State Department workforce.
The department is also pressuring a dozen of its other health providers to remove the exclusion relating to sex reassignment, pointing out that the exclusion first should not exist, but second, that it is routinely used to exclude the transgendered from regular health services. “Insurance companies often view this exclusion in the broadest possible terms, excluding care that clearly has no relationship to gender status such as cancer treatment and routine preventive care,” a statement from the State Department noted.
Secretary of State John Kerry argued that America cannot continue to preach equality to the world while refusing to take action at home.
“It’s about fairness and respect for our employees, but it’s also about showing the world we mean what we say and say what we mean,” Kerry said in a statement to The Washington Post. “It’s tough to tell other countries to provide equal opportunity if we’re not living that out ourselves.” No other Secretary of State has made LGBT this important of a priority.
Earlier this year, Kerry even went so far as to publicly state that the U.S. needs more gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender ambassadors. “I’m working hard to ensure that by the end of my tenure, we will have lesbian, bisexual, and transgender ambassadors in our ranks as well,” Kerry reaffirmed at a GLIFAA (formerly Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies) event at the State Department in June. GLIFAA represents LGBT employees at the State Department, and the organization applauded the recent decision by OPM and AFSPA to push for equality.
According to AFSPA executive Paula S. Jakub, her association has been working hard for two whole years to provide equal opportunity for the transgendered, collaborating with the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). But while the OPM assented, it did not mandate that other health insurance companies follow suit with AFSPA, and so, for reformers, the struggle is not yet complete.
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