By Corinne Murdock
According to Mayor Brigette Peterson, the Gilbert Town Council should reconsider offering $75,000 of taxpayer money annually for employee sex changes. The motion failed in a council meeting last week. After the vote, Peterson indicated that the sex change surgery – referred to as ‘gender-affirming surgery’ – would return to committee for review in the future.
Currently, the town benefits cover therapy and hormone treatments.
Councilmember Aimee Yentes spoke up first on the issue. She said she supported the 3 percent premium increases, but not the sex change surgery.
“I think those are policies that deviate from other positions we’ve taken as a community that delve more into social policy rather than strictly providing medical[ly] necessary benefits to our employees,” said Yentes.
Vice Mayor Yung Koprowski only spoke up to mention she’d vote for adding sex change surgery coverage only to align with Affordable Care Act (ACA) industry standard.
Councilmember Scott September said he concurred with Yentes’ assessment.
The question of necessity for such coverage came into play. Councilmember Laurin Hendrix asked the human resources representative, Deputy Chief People Officer Kristen Drew, if any applicants within the past 5 years had refused to apply for or accept employment because the town didn’t offer sex change surgery coverage.
Drew said there hadn’t been any such applicants.
Despite this history, the mayor claimed that not offering this surgery would be a deal breaker for employees in the future. She also urged the council to be more open-minded, to set aside their own values.
“At some point, it might become an issue and we’ll show that this community is forward-thinking, and there are times that we need to make the tough decisions that may not always align with our own thought process when it comes to our personal choices or our political choices or our religious choices, even but we put Gilbert in a position that provides for whatever the future may hold[,]” said Peterson. “I’m going to encourage our council members to be open-minded in this benefit and look to this community moving forward where we can be strong and handle situations like this that come forward and we’re faced with.”
In an interview with AZ Free News, Hendrix raised several points of contention about the added coverage and the mayor’s perspective. He stated that a sex change surgery is cosmetic – not a true health need.
“I see health insurance for health needs. And I don’t see this as a health need. It’s a cosmetic surgery by choice. I don’t see any reason that taxpayers should have to pay for that,” said Hendrix. “They were comparing it to autism syndrome at the meeting. You don’t wake up in the morning and think [you have autism]. That’s not something where you have a choice. The two are not similar.”
Hendrix said he doesn’t have an issue with people having the surgery. Rather, Hendrix said he doesn’t want taxpayers to have to foot the bill for it.
Further, Hendrix assessed that this benefit could be an incentive for people to take an underemployed job just for the surgery – and then leave after they got it.
It was Peterson’s request to council before the vote that stuck out to Hendrix the most.
“The mayor’s comments at the end were shocking. We have to ‘get past’ our moral values, our standards? But what else would I base my vote on, if I’m going to put aside my family values, my moral values, religious values, or personal standards? What’s my vote based on? What’s left? I gotta base my vote on something,” said Hendrix. “I hope she bases her vote on something other than who paid into her campaign.”
Councilmembers voted unanimously for the 3 percent premium increases, but the motion to add sex change surgery coverage failed 4-3. Yentes, September, Hendrix, and Scott Anderson voted against the measure. The Vice Mayor, Mayor, and Councilmember Kathy Tilque voted for it.