Portland passes LGBTQ+ inclusive fertility health coverage for city employees

Civic Affairs

Vote had special significance for Commissioner Dan Ryan

FILE: A rainbow flag flies in support of LGBTQ+ marriage equality (KOIN).

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Portland City Council unanimously passed an ordinance Wednesday that makes fertility and family planning health benefits for city employees more inclusive for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people and single parents.  

The ordinance was of personal relevance to Commissioner Dan Ryan, who shared a little bit about his private life during the measure’s initial hearing last month.

“As an open Queer up here on the dias, it really means a lot to me. I don’t talk about this a lot but in the mid-90s, the beginning of what I call the ‘lesbian baby boom’ in Seattle, my ex and I were donors,” Ryan explained. “I have two children that…I’m more like the uncle, they have two really awesome moms. They’re really important in my life and I don’t get to tell that story a lot.”

The ordinance was co-sponsored by Mayor Ted Wheeler and then-Commissioner Amanda Fritz, whose office worked for the better part of two years collaborating with city staff and human resources to address the inequitable hurdle employees face while navigating their journey to become parents.

“I’m glad to see our city government is embracing all of our employees and seeking to meet their needs,” Fritz said.

Commissioner Dan Ryan said an ordinance for Portland City Council to adopt more LGBTQ+ inclusive fertility health coverage was of particular significant as a member of the LGBTQ+ community. December 17, 2020 (Portland City Hall).

Wheeler said the city’s current health plans are restricted by IRS tax codes, thus the ordinance authorizes the city to utilize a third-party vendor that provides options to same-sex couples, single parents and others seeking opportunities through adoption and/or surrogacy

“This agreement recognizes and begins to address barriers for many of our city employees who are seeking a pathway to parenthood,” Wheeler said. “As a commitment to the city’s core values and recognizing the need to support our diverse employee population, expanded access to fertility and family planning benefits is necessary. 

The ordinance comes one month after a report from the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Foundation, the education arm of the nation’s largest LGBTQ civil rights organization, found that Oregon cities are leading the way nationally when it comes to LGBTQ equality.

Portland, Eugene and Salem are trailblazing the way forward on LGBTQ inclusion, despite lack of explicit state-level protections, the report found. 

Earlier this year, City Council voted to strike gendered language from the city charter. In 2011, the city passed a transgender healthcare benefits ordinance for city employees.

Claire Adamsick was the senior policy director for Commissioner Fritz’s office who spearheaded the issue 18 months ago and brought the matter to Fritz’s attention. 

Adamsick pointed out the out-of-pocket expenses for certain people under the current city code brought by things like fertility treatments, adoption, surrogacy or fostering had disproportionate impacts on already marginalized communities. 

“The lack of employer coverage has a greater burden on Black, Indigenous and employees of color as well as LGBTQIA2S, single and low income employees,” Adamsick said.

“As a city employee myself, this policy gives me confidence that the city is willing to help meet my needs holistically.”

-Seraphie Allen, Senior Policy Advisor for Mayor Ted Wheeler’s Office

Seraphie Allen, Senior Policy Advisor for Mayor Ted Wheeler’s Office spoke during the ordinance’s initial hearing, not in an official capacity, but as a member of the LGBTQ community and city employee who dreams of having a family one day.

Allen said while this ordinance is a cause to celebrate, as well as the 2015 passage of nationwide marriage equality in the U.S., there are still more challenges to be overcome by the LGBTQ community in terms of discrimination. 

For instance, 2020 saw 43 instances of fatal violence against transgender or gender non-comforming people in the U.S., the majority of which were Black and Lantinx transgender women, according to HRC.

In addition, LGBTQ people comprise an estimated 20-40% of homeless populations, despite only comprising 5-10% of the wider population, according to a 2019 report from the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 

Despite these grim statistics, Allen said City Council’s vote gets us one stop closer to the road of equality.

“As a city employee myself, this policy gives me confidence that the city is willing to help meet my needs holistically,” Allen said. “I am grateful to have worked for the City of Portland the last four years and I want to thank Commissioner Frtiz and especially Claire Adamsick for their long advocacy and hard work on this policy over the last couple of years.” 

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