A Healthy LGBT Community Needs a Public Health Care System: CLC Solidarity and Pride Working Group


An Open Letter to the Community from the Canadian Labour Congress Solidarity and Pride Working Group

A Healthy LGBT Community Needs a Public Health Care System

"The peoples of Canada believe that health care is a fundamental right of every human being without distinction of race, gender, age, disability, religion, sexual orientation, political belief, economic or social condition."

("Standing Together for Medicare: A Call to Care" Statement of October 2001 Health Care Conference, hosted by the Canadian Health Coalition and the Canadian Labour Congress, endorsed by over 150 Canadian groups and organizations - opening statement.)

The Canadian Labour Congress Solidarity and Pride Working Group represents and works for LGBT trade unionists and workers across the country. We are trade unionists and we are members of LGBT communities as well. Within our unions, we campaign for LGBT rights in the workplace and recognition in our unions. We also raise the concerns of LGBT people in all issues of concern to working Canadians. We are writing to our LGBT communities now to say that it's time to get involved in the fight for public health care in Canada. It is a critical issue for us as lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual people.

Why should LGBT people care about Canada's public health care system?

Canadians are in the middle of a major debate about the future of our public health care system. On the one hand, there are those who see access to health care as a basic right for all, who believe all health care dollars should go for care and not for profit and who agree that the cost of care should not prevent those without money from access to medical attention. On the other, are those who argue that private, for-profit health care would be more efficient.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people need to be on the side of public health care. We have so much to lose and so little to gain from privatization.

Privatization Has Begun

Provincial and territorial health care systems differ, but every one has seen the privatization and de-listing of services from public health care coverage - sex reassignment surgery was one of the first necessary and important services to be off the list. Changes to coverage for drugs, hormone treatment, artificial insemination and supplementary therapies have been devastating for those requiring this care.

Private extended health plans are not the answer. Private health care insurance means meeting the private insurer's requirements and "pre-existing conditions" such as being HIV positive will disqualify you from obtaining coverage. Private insurance also costs us money.

Cost

While we don't have statistics about where LGBT people work (and we know we are everywhere), we do know that lesbians as women earn less money; the wage gap does exist. We know that discrimination in employment means that many trans people are un- and underemployed. We know lots of GLBT people work in the service sector, at low wage jobs, without unions and where employers don't provide health care plans or pensions - no public health care system means more expense now; no pension plan means less money and more medical expenses as we age. A private, for-profit health care system will cost more, much more, and we can't afford it.

Public Health Care and Accountability are Key for our Community

LGBT people historically have faced discrimination in access to and in the provision of health care services. The stories of trans people are shocking and horrific. Activists from LGBT communities have challenged health care institutions to change their policies and practices and to accept our right to care free from prejudice and discrimination.

Public control of health care services and accountability through democratic processes provide a much better option for the LGBT community - and for members of the disability rights, women's, Aboriginal and peoples of colour communities - to continue to demand fair and equal treatment. This is work that has begun by the community and much needs to be done.

Private for-profit institutions, privately controlled and operated, are much less susceptible to community needs and voices. Will they be accountable? Will they be able to refuse care to members of our community on grounds of their moral or religious beliefs? Access to health care is a basic human right; we do not want to have to go shopping for health care services to find places where we feel safe. We have a right to respectful care in our community.

Public control is essential for us. Things will only get worse with private, for-profit health care.

Research and Policy Development

We need publicly accountable institutions which can be pressured into providing research on our health care concerns and which are responsive to public pressure rather than profitability. Private institutions are not likely to invest in research that does not meet their religious/personal/political/financial/pocket book criteria. Profit driven institutions - like drug companies - may be much more interested in research into ongoing, expensive, drug therapies for people with HIV/AIDS, than in research into finding a cure... there is no profit in a cure.

Women

Approximately 80% of health providers are women and they are bearing the heaviest burden of cuts, wage reductions and deskilling of their work which result from privatization. We also know that much of the care for the sick which results from downsizing public health care institutions has fallen on the backs of women. Lesbians face these realities and this additional burden of care as do heterosexual women.

Isn't it interesting that the moves to privatization of health care come at the same time as the discussion of the recognition of same sex marriage? We too can be - and will be - responsible for the unpaid private care of our loved ones and for the medical treatments and services that used to be provided publicly by professional, paid employees.

LGBT Health Care Workers

Many members of the LGBT community work in the health care field. Finding and keeping good jobs in public institutions will be much harder. The public health care system is currently highly unionized and has provided access to relatively good, secure, well-paid jobs, with unions to help win protection against discrimination and with access to negotiated benefits for the partners of LGBT workers.

For-profit institutions will result in lower wages and benefits, reduced services and the application of private sector management techniques which effectively deskill workers and contradict the ethics of care which guide public health care workers. Profit, not care, will be the watchword.

It's Time to Make our Voices Heard

No representations were made by groups from the LGBT community to the Romanow Commission on health care. While Romanow did deal with special needs and barriers to access for different communities - for women and Aboriginal peoples for example - there was absolutely no mention of the health care needs of our LGBT communities in the Romanow Report. We cannot afford to have our needs ignored.

Join the campaign to preserve and expand public health care in Canada. Write your elected representatives including your premier. Insist that health care dollars be spent on public, not-for-profit health care. Tell your stories. Explain why public access to non-profit health care meets our needs. Raise the issue in your community group and make sure we all join in.

It is time to make the voices and the needs of LGBT communities heard in this debate. Health care is a human right. Let's make sure our community gets the care we deserve through a strong public health care system.

In solidarity,

The Canadian Labour Congress
Solidarity and Pride Working Group

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