‘They are lifesaving’: Starbucks offers expanded benefits for trans people

Tate Burhmester (Photo: Mike Kane / Starbucks)

Starbucks has announced plans to offer comprehensive health care for its transgender employees, covering procedures usually deemed “cosmetic” and not financed by most insurers.

On Monday, and perhaps not unintentionally during Pride Month, the company announced that in addition to covering gender reassignment, or “bottom surgery,” which it has done since 2012, the company will now foot the bill for breast reduction or augmentation (i.e., “top surgery”), hair transplants, voice therapy and facial-feminization surgery.

Years before they met, Tate Buhrmester and his wife, Katherine, had hearts tattooed on their inside forearms. They are nearly identical – both simple dark outlines (Katherine’s has a V for Vegan lettered on the inside) tattooed on almost exactly the same spot on their arms. As they sit on the patio of their apartment on a recent afternoon with their arms entwined, the hearts press against each other.

When they met several years ago, they thought it was an interesting coincidence, but didn’t read too much into it. They aren’t superstitious that way, they said – they just both happened to like the simple look and pure symbolism of a heart shape. But it’s one of the ways that they just seem to fit together, they say. Being together is natural, easy.

“When I’m with Tate, I’m home,” Katherine said.

With each other, they can truly be themselves, Tate said. He’s happy – and content in the life he’s living.

It wasn’t always that way. Thirty-three years ago, he was born female. He remembers a childhood where, from a young age, he didn’t quite know where he fit. “I didn’t feel like a girl or a woman. I didn’t really feel like anything.”

Growing up in Riverside, Calif., he didn’t have many friends, except his big Alaskan Malamute, Zack, the first of a string of family dogs who loved him for who he is. By high school, he’d started binding his breasts with thick rolls of ace bandages, dressing in boys’ clothes and “people would confuse me for a boy,” he said. “It made me feel really good about how I looked. … I thought, ‘This is how I want to represent myself to the world and be seen.’”

When he was 16, he came out to his family as a lesbian – “and it didn’t go over that well,” he said, remembering his mother’s tears. The depression and anxiety he’d struggled with his whole life got worse.

Today, at age 33, he’s a happily married man with a full life – something he could never even imagine when he was younger, he said. The despair he’d once felt is gone. The difference, he says, is simply being able to be who is – a transgender man.

Tate, who has been with Starbucks for 15 years and now manages a store in Austin, Texas, is one of a growing number of Starbucks partners who have used the company’s leading-edge benefits for transgender partners.

Starbucks health insurance plans include not only gender reassignment surgery (which had been covered since 2012), but now also a host of procedures for transgender partners in the U.S. that were previously considered cosmetic, and therefore not covered, such as breast reduction or augmentation surgery, facial feminization, hair transplants and more.

“The approach was driven not just by the company’s desire to provide truly inclusive coverage, and by powerful conversations with transgender partners about how those benefits would allow them to truly be who they are,” said Ron Crawford, vice president of benefits at Starbucks.

“It makes trans people feel like they are people,” said Buhrmester, “like they matter and their health matters.”

Crawford said it’s simply the right thing to do. “I view this as a diagnosis with a treatment path,” he said. “You have to think of it from an equity perspective.”

READ MORE: https://news.starbucks.com/news/they-are-lifesaving-starbucks-offers-expanded-benefits-for-trans-people