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Starbucks has a pretty solid track record with the LGBTQ community, and its latest announcement shows why.

Since 2012, the coffee chain has included certain transition-related medical treatments for trans employees in its health insurance packages. And at the end of June 2018, it announced an expansion of that plan.

The policy previously listed certain transition-related procedures — such as laser hair removal, facial feminization surgeries, breast reductions or augmentations, and hair transplants — as cosmetic and therefore not covered by insurance. The new employee health care package will cover those, and that's a pretty huge deal for their trans workers.


Starbucks flies a Pride flag above its corporate headquarters in Seattle. Photo via Starbucks Newsroom.

How exactly did Starbucks come to these decisions? It's simple, really: It asked experts for help.

The company reached out to the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH), the go-to source for trans-related standards of care, to better understand trans people and their health needs. According to the company's press release, they are the first group to work directly with WPATH on shaping corporate policy. Not everybody understands trans issues or trans health and might be inclined to lump those types of transition-related procedures in with "cosmetic" exclusions. That's why it's so important that Starbucks took the extra step to consult experts.

Tate Buhrmester, a Starbucks employee of 15 years and the manager of one of its Austin, Texas, stores, is a living example of what happens when you provide people with access to care they need.

"It makes trans people feel like they are people, like they matter and their health matters," said Buhrmester, a trans man (meaning that he was assigned female at birth and transitioned to male), in a video on the company's website.

Buhrmester has been a Starbucks employee for 15 years. Photo by Mike Kane/Starbucks Newsroom.

Some may ask why a company should worry about policies that would only affect 0.6% of the population. The better question to ask is why not?

As a case study on the city of San Francisco's 2001 decision to include transition-related care in its insurance coverage shows, trans-inclusive policies have virtually zero effect on the cost of premiums. Researchers also found that trans employees were happier, healthier, and more productive as a result. There's no downside.

"The approach was driven not just by the company’s desire to provide truly inclusive coverage, [but also] by powerful conversations with transgender partners about how those benefits would allow them to truly be who they are," said Starbucks' vice president of benefits, Ron Crawford. "I view this as a diagnosis with a treatment path. You have to think of it from an equity perspective."

With the federal government's increasingly hostile approach to trans people — including a decision to reinterpret a section of the Affordable Care Act's nondiscrimination clause so as to give insurance companies the ability to categorically exclude trans coverage — it's on states and employers to set an example for the world and make this type of care the standard.

Buhrmester and his wife, Katherine, appear in the Starbucks video. Photo by Mike Kane/Starbucks Newsroom.

When one company takes a stand for doing what's right, others often soon follow. For vulnerable populations like trans people, that's the hope.

Sometimes, companies will follow suit because they see that it's the right thing to do. Other times, they follow the new model as a way of keeping their compensation packages consistent with their competitors. Whatever the case is, this could have a ripple effect, changing the lives of trans people for the better.

Not all trans people will use the services offered by this new insurance (just as not all employees will use coverage for a broken leg or treatment for heart disease), but it's still included in everyone's policies. But what this does, in addition to providing critical care, is send a message that trans people matter to the company as much as any other employee.

Good on you, Starbucks. Thanks a latte!

Watch Tate Buhrmester explain why this move means so much to him in Starbucks' powerful video below.

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"It is so easy to overestimate the importance of one defining moment and underestimate the value of making small improvements on a daily basis,” James Clear writes. “It is only when looking back 2 or 5 or 10 years later that the value of good habits and the cost of bad ones becomes strikingly apparent.”

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