- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 15, 2016

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) - Portland is set to become the first city in the state to provide transgender health care benefits for city employees.

Mayor Ethan Strimling said about three months ago advocates met with city officials and pointed out language in the city’s insurance policy that outright said it would not cover transgender health care services.

“When we saw it, we said there’s no way it should be the policy of the city,” Strimling said.

The non-partisan mayor, a former Democratic state senator, estimated “minimal cost” for the city, which just passed a budget including a provision for the new policy.

The move comes ahead of a federal Department of Health and Human Services rule, effective in July, that will forbid health insurers that receive federal financial assistance from categorically excluding treatments related to gender transition. That doesn’t apply to self-insured entities such as large businesses and local governments.

But at a time when businesses are increasingly voicing support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights, many companies, including Time Warner Cable, already have announced they’ll provide such benefits.

For LGBT advocates in Maine and nationwide, the new frontier is getting local governments on board.

The Portland City Council is set to formalize the policy on Monday, when it will consider a resolution that would go into effect Jan. 1.

More than 60 cities across the nation, including Boston, Providence and Burlington, Vermont, have passed policies ending such exclusions.

Strimling and LGBT advocates in Maine say they’re hopeful Portland’s policy will be a model for other municipalities and employers in the state.

“For years, Mainers have stood up for fair treatment of LGBT people when it comes to marriage, housing and employment,” said EqualityMaine Executive Director Matt Moonen, of Portland, who’s also a Democratic state representative.

In a 2005 referendum, Maine voters upheld a statewide law banning discrimination based on sexual orientation, including gender identity. And in 2014, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruled in favor of an Orono transgender student barred from using a bathroom appropriate for her gender.

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