Belgians considering gender reassignment must wait average of 15 months

Belgians considering gender reassignment must wait average of 15 months
LGBTQ protest Brussels. Credit: Jilke Tielemans/The Brussels Times

People considering gender reassignment surgery in Belgium must wait an average of 15 months for an initial consultation with a psychologist, which according to Deputy Prime Minister, Petra De Sutter, is too long.

Petra De Sutter, from the Flemish Greens (Groen), is advocating for more specialised centres in Belgium, De Morgen reports.

Approximately 1,033 people are on the waiting list for a gender clinic at UZ Ghent, and some of those people are waiting at least a year and a half.

“That’s an eternity when you feel so unsure about your gender,” one 26-year-old Belgian said.

“It's even worse for friends of mine who are positive they want to change their gender. It is unbearable to have to wait so long to feel comfortable in your own body.”

Wait times are longer for young people

The waiting time is also even longer for young people, as there are fewer youth psychologists who specialise in gender reassignment and especially for non-native speakers of Belgium’s languages.

“Since January we have done 204 intake interviews, in addition to the consultations of people who came in earlier,” said Guy T'Sjoen, endocrinologist at UZ Gent. “But in the same period we received 363 new registrations.”

To offer alternatives to people considering gender reassignment, T'Sjoen founded the Transgender Infopunt together with Joz Motmans. Their website includes a care map where people considering gender reassignment can find a provider with expertise in their area.

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Still, despite options in other provinces, a lot of people register at UZ Gent.

Only UZ Gent and the hospital in Liège fall under the Transgender Care Convention, which means that in these hospitals, sessions with a psychologist or puberty inhibitors are largely reimbursed.

Considering that one could need as many as 20 sessions with a psychologist during a transition, the costs without reimbursement are high.

New federal plan promises to make transgender care more affordable

The Federal Government's new set of measures intended to promote the safety and wellbeing of LGBTQ+ people in the country includes a promise to make transgender care more accessible.

But De Sutter says the plan is not concrete enough: “Today, people from the Kempen region who struggle with their gender identity have to go to Ghent only to end up on a waiting list. There should be more specialised centres, spread across the country.”

Since January 2021, Flanders has a second gender clinic at the Ziekenhuis Oost-Limburg. But this centre is also bogged down with long wait lists: the earliest intake interview appointment is for July 2023.

That centre also does not yet fall under the Transgender Care Convention. Minister of Public Health Frank Vandenbroucke (Vooruit) wants to evaluate this convention in the autumn, with a possible adjustment planned for next year.

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