If you’ve looked at a newspaper, scrolled through Apple News, or read the comments on literally any website, then you know that a lot of things are very bad right now. But Starbucks has provided some long-overdue good news, and a reminder that not everything is terrible. The company is punctuating Pride Month with an announcement that it will expand its health benefits for transgender employees to include a number of procedures that are typically categorized as cosmetic surgeries.
According to a post on its own Newsroom, Starbucks’ health insurance plans have covered gender confirmation surgeries—often referred to as “bottom” surgeries—since 2012, but it will now be covering the “top” procedures as well, including breast reduction, breast augmentation, facial feminization, hair transplants, and electrolysis. It’s perhaps just as significant that there is no lifetime cap on these services.
Last year, Ron Crawford—vice president of benefits at Starbucks—and benefits director Alyssa Brock both worked with the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) to improve its benefits policy to one that was more comprehensive; Jamison Green, the former president of WPATH says that Starbucks is the first company in the world that has ever reached out to the agency for this kind of guidance.
“We heard a lot from our transgender partners that this is important to them—and so it should be important to us, too,” Brock said. “It’s true to our mission and values of nurturing the human spirit.”
Tate Buhrmester, a transgender man who manages a store in Austin, Texas, is one of the employees who have already benefited from Starbucks’ transgender medical benefits, and he applauds their willingness to further expand that coverage.
“Starbucks is taking a stand and standing up for trans people and saying that our procedures aren’t just cosmetic—they are lifesaving. They’re affirming,” he said. “They’re vitally important to trans people and it’s not something just to be seen as a cosmetic procedure that’s optional, because for a lot of people, it’s not optional for them.”
According to The Hill, Starbucks got a perfect score in the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s yearly Corporate Equality Index, and was again named a “Best Place to Work for LGBTQ Equality.” That’s not to say that the company—or its employees—have always gotten it right. (The Philadelphia incident… need we say more?)
Additionally, PinkNews reports that a transgender man named Paul Bray has an ongoing discrimination lawsuit against two Starbucks locations in Minnesota, alleging that workers at the shops in Eden Prairie and Edina began treating him differently after learning that he was transgender. He filed the lawsuit in July 2014, and it was thrown out by the Hennepin County District Court, before being reinstated last December by the Minnesota Court of Appeals.
But back to today’s good news.
“It’s a huge lifting of a burden when you are a trans person and you need to have certain treatments in order to actually stay alive, to realize that you are not going to face horrendous obstacles,” WPATH’s Green said of the company’s new policy. “It’s like an asthmatic being able to breathe.”