Yukon's new gender-affirming care policy is most comprehensive in Canada, experts say

·4 min read
Dr. Michael Marshall was one of the experts consulted in the making of the new policy. Marshall says the policy is far ahead of other gender-affirming policies in the rest of Canada. (Submitted by Dr. Michael Marshall - image credit)
Dr. Michael Marshall was one of the experts consulted in the making of the new policy. Marshall says the policy is far ahead of other gender-affirming policies in the rest of Canada. (Submitted by Dr. Michael Marshall - image credit)

Yukon's new gender-affirming care policy is the most comprehensive of its kind in Canada, according to experts.

The document, issued by the territory's Insured Health and Hearing Services, has expanded health-care coverage to include a more comprehensive list of surgeries and procedures.

It defines gender-affirming healthcare as procedures that help align one's body and physical presentation with one's gender identity.

'It's incredible'

Chase Blodgett, president of All Genders Yukon Society, said he was "shocked and pleasantly surprised" when he reviewed the new policy.

"It's going to change the lives of so many people in a positive manner," Blodgett said. "It's incredible to have the Yukon having gender-affirming procedures coverage that is the most comprehensive in Canada and in North America."

Some of the biggest changes include coverage for facial feminization surgery and less restricted access to hair removal — procedures that are not covered by any other province or territory in the country — and access to body contouring.

"[This document] is going to profoundly remove barriers to allow people to be treated and seen in the general public for who they are," said Blodgett.

Life-saving procedures

The new policy defines gender-affirming care as life-saving procedures.

A 2020 Trans PULSE Canada survey found one in three trans, two-spirit and/or non-binary people had considered suicide in the past year. One in 20 reported attempting it.

The high rates of transphobic violence and harassment faced by gender diverse people are well-documented, and 64 per cent of people surveyed reported avoiding three or more types of public spaces out of fear of being harassed or outed.

Research shows it isn't people's gender identity causing distress and suicidal thoughts, Blodgett said, but it's the significant barriers they face in society to performing tasks of daily life.

Chase Blodgett, president of All Genders Yukon society, said he was shocked and pleasantly surprised when he reviewed the new policy.
Chase Blodgett, president of All Genders Yukon society, said he was shocked and pleasantly surprised when he reviewed the new policy.(Paul Tukker/CBC)

Medical professionals requested policy revision

The document has been in the works since 2019, when the Yukon government started looking at revising its strategy after receiving multiple requests from medical professionals advocating on behalf of their patients for better coverage.

Marguerite Fenske, acting director for Insured Health and Hearing Services, said the influx of requests was a "big sign" that something needed to change.

"These services really are required ... for [people's] health and well-being," said Fenske.

Michelle Wolsky, a nurse practitioner with Yukon's sexual health clinic, helped with the policy's initial consultation.

She said the clinic was seeing an uptick in patients seeking gender-affirming care, but the old policy was too specific and limiting to give them the care they needed.

"Gender-affirming care is really more of a buffet. It's not black and white," Wolsky said. "It's more of a continuum of what people are looking for to affirm their gender."

"This policy has placed [Yukon] well ahead of the rest of the provinces and territories in Canada." - Dr. Michael Marshall, president of Canadian Professional Association for Transgender Health

She said the procedures included in the new policy will improve people's mental health, citing a 2013 survey that found 43 per cent of transgender people had attempted suicide in their lifetime.

"These procedures … will only improve mental health significantly for people when they can actually live as they feel internally."

Michelle Wolsky, a nurse practitioner with Yukon's sexual health clinic, helped with the initial consultation. She the old document was too specific and limiting to give people the care they needed.
Michelle Wolsky, a nurse practitioner with Yukon's sexual health clinic, helped with the initial consultation. She the old document was too specific and limiting to give people the care they needed.(Submitted by Michelle Wolsky)

'Yukon has been a trailblazer'

The new policy is groundbreaking in that it considers the person as a whole, said Dr. Michael Marshall, president of the Canadian Professional Association for Transgender Health.

"Yukon has been a trailblazer ... and continues to be one with this," said Marshall, who was one of the experts who helped create the document. "This policy has placed itself well ahead of the rest of the provinces and territories in Canada."

Dr. Gail Knudson, past president of the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, reviewed the policy and found that it would "significantly improve the quality of lives" of people seeking the medically necessary care.

"This is, by far, the most comprehensive policy supporting gender affirming medical care, across the country," Knudson told CBC News in an email.

Policy comes weeks before election called

It was issued on March 1, just weeks before Yukon's Liberal government called a territorial election, and party officials have already pointed to it as evidence for their support of the LGBTQ2s+ community in their campaign.

NDP spokesperson Emily Della Mattia told CBC the party is "very supportive" of the document, and is also proposing a "LGBTQIA2S+ navigator," who would directly assist community members in accessing the services and care.

Yukon Party spokesperson Tim Kucharuk told CBC though the party has not reviewed the paper, they support the goal of improving health outcomes for all Yukoners regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity."

This Whitehorse crosswalk represents the transgender pride flag.
This Whitehorse crosswalk represents the transgender pride flag.(Philippe Morin/CBC)