Editorial: The AMS is failing to stand up for Trans students

This article contains discussion of transphobia.

The February 13 AMS Council meeting demonstrated the AMS’s disregard for the health and wellbeing of Trans students and a failure to live up to its equity commitments.

Council voted to put two separate referendum items in this year’s AMS Elections ballot — one for a general $52.50 fee increase to maintain the current level of coverage and a separate $8 fee increase to add gender-affirming care coverage to the plan that is conditional on the first increase passing.

Councillors voted to separate the two items despite the Trans Coalition's specific request to combine them. The Trans Coalition is a group of students advocating for gender-affirming care on campus. Coalition speakers said the separate vote on gender-affirming care places extra scrutiny on their community. This visibility increases Trans students’ risk of harassment because extra attention toward Trans people often leads to discrimination.

The current health care plan is not sustainable with the present fee, but the plan also does not include comprehensive gender-affirming health care, creating a financial barrier to accessing life-saving care for many Trans students.

Trans students said separating the two referendum items — and making the item on gender-affirming care conditional on the general fee item passing — implies they should be treated differently than cisgender students by the AMS.

Some councillors said the two referendum items should be separate because they were asking different things, with one pertaining to a fee increase and the other to adding new coverage. This technicality allowed Council to choose to vote against the wellbeing of Trans students who asked for a single referendum out of visibility and equity concerns.

This addition is not merely an expansion of care, but rather an opportunity to fix an oversight in the Health & Dental Plan since the care Trans students need is not already available to them.

Past changes in coverage to the Health & Dental Plan — like the mental health coverage increases — have been passed internally. AMS executives said they can’t make these changes internally right now due to the poor financial health of the Health & Dental Reserve Fund, but rejecting the simple request to combine these two referenda others Trans students.

This blatant disregard for the wellbeing of Trans students goes against the AMS Equity Action Plan, which commits to building stronger anti-discriminatory relationships with the 2SLGBTQIA+ community.

One of the actions under goal seven in the Outreach, Advocacy + Communication section of the Equity Action Plan states, “Do not burden individuals from [historically, persistently, and systematically] marginalized communities … with the responsibility to speak for their entire community or to educate others on [justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion] issues.”

In an effort to appeal to councillors, several Trans Coalition members at the meeting shared their experiences of transphobic harassment and facing barriers to gender-affirming care at UBC and elsewhere.

Why did marginalized students need to disclose traumatic anecdotes to convince councillors of the harassment they face? This reveals a failure in how Council handles conversations around the trauma of equity-seeking and marginalized groups.

Besides the failure to adhere to the Equity Action Plan and inconsistencies regarding when and why changes to the Health & Dental Plan should be brought to a student vote, Council also displayed a lack of empathy toward the Coalition.

Many councillors pushed back against the group, placing their own views of what Trans students needed above those of the Trans activists in the room. Some councillors even insinuated cis students shouldn’t have to pay for Trans students’ health care — an argument that misses the point of a comprehensive health care plan that all students pay into regardless of whether individual students use all of the available benefits.

Some councillors also argued adding gender-affirming care to the general fee increase referendum item might cause the proposed fee increase to fail, putting the health care of all students at risk due to the AMS's inability to sustain the plan without a fee increase.

But at the same time, Council said they believed the two referendum items would pass individually. These arguments contradict each other. If the AMS believed students would support gender-affirming care as a single item, why wouldn’t they support it while nested within the broader fee increase?

While a few councillors spoke in support of the Trans Coalition, most other councillors either pushed back against the Coalition or remained silent. Council also went into a private, in-camera session for the last 40 minutes of the discussion on whether to combine the referenda, meaning all non-voting members, including the Trans Coalition and The Ubyssey, were kicked out of the room.

After the in-camera session, Council voted 16–4 against combining the referenda.

We can’t know what was discussed during this session, which raises concerns about transparency. Councillors should be required to publicly share their stances on issues that directly affect students who elected them.

When voting in AMS Elections next week, you’ll see two separate referendum items on the ballot. And although this decision is disappointing, know that students advocated for the wellbeing of the UBC Trans community when the AMS wouldn’t.

If you are a student looking for gender-affirming care and/or support on campus, consider these resources:

Editorials represent the opinions of the editorial board of The Ubyssey.