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Nova Scotia to cover breast augmentation surgery for transgender women

Serina Slaunwhite is a transgender woman who fought for two years to have the Nova Scotia government cover breast augmentation surgeries for trans women.
Serina Slaunwhite is a transgender woman who fought for two years to have the Nova Scotia government cover breast augmentation surgeries for trans women. Aya Al-Hakim/Global News

Nova Scotia announced Friday that it will begin covering breast augmentation surgery for transgender women in the province beginning July 1.

The decision will make Nova Scotia the fourth province to publicly fund the gender-affirming surgery, joining British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario.

“I feel elated. I’m very happy,” said Serina Slaunwhite, a transgender woman who led the charge.

READ MORE: Activist says Nova Scotia should cover transgender breast implants in human rights complaint

She enlisted the help of the Dalhousie Legal Aid Service and the Nova Scotia Rainbow Action Project to push for changes, filing a human rights complaint against the Nova Scotia government in August 2018.

“The reason I took up this fight with the Department of Health was basically that with the list of surgeries that were currently covered, breast augmentation surgery was not included — specifically breast implants for transgender women — but it was included for trans men,” said Slaunwhite.

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“I thought that was unfair because there are actually a little more procedures covered for trans men than there are for trans women.”

Left to right: Kate Shewan of the Youth Project, Nova Scotia NDP spokesperson for LGBTQ2 affairs Susan Leblanc, activist Serina Slaunwhite, lawyer Susanne Litke and activist Michael Davies-Cole pose at the legislature in Halifax on Thursday, Aug. 16, 2018.
Left to right: Kate Shewan of the Youth Project, Nova Scotia NDP spokesperson for LGBTQ2 affairs Susan Leblanc, activist Serina Slaunwhite, lawyer Susanne Litke and activist Michael Davies-Cole pose at the legislature in Halifax on Thursday, Aug. 16, 2018. The Canadian Press/Alex Cooke

“I can appreciate the distress transgender people can experience during their transition, and I thank those who have advocated for this change,” said Health and Wellness Minister Randy Delorey. “We are now providing more support and more equitable coverage for transgender women.”

The government began covering gender-confirming surgery in April 2014 but did not include breast augmentation, among other procedures.

According to the government’s website, five surgeries for trans men, including chest masculinization, are listed and covered by the government, while trans women have three surgeries, with breast augmentation being the most recent addition.

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Slaunwhite said she’s excited to access the service in the near future.

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“Having breast implants is not just for appearance but it is part of a normal woman’s makeup, and a trans woman should be able to look and feel like a natural woman,” she said.

“I can tell you, honestly, it does have an impact on you, emotionally and psychologically, because it always makes you conscious of what you do when you go out and what kind of clothes you have to wear.”

Susan Leblanc, NDP LGBTQ2 spokesperson, said the announcement is an “affirmation” of the work that the queer and transgender communities have been doing to call for equity in health-care treatment, but she does have some concerns.

READ MORE: Toronto home to first public hospital in Canada that offers transition-related surgery

“I’m concerned about wait times, and that is a big issue, obviously, for the general population health care but, in particular, for trans health because there’s a lot of preliminary processes that trans people have to go through before their surgeries are approved,” said Leblanc.

“We need to have way more resources in the fight for trans people in general so that those preliminary steps can get taken care of more quickly.”

Slaunwhite said long wait times is “something that, unfortunately, we have to deal with because there are a lot of trans people here in this province.”

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Eligibility for the surgery is determined based on individual criteria and an assessment by a health professional.