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Dark Horse Comics reverses its anti-trans healthcare stance, will insure trans employees

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The company will expand its coverage following vocal backlash

Photo by James Bareham / The Verge

Following outcry from comics professionals and fans on Twitter, Dark Horse Comics has announced that it will backtrack on its health insurance policy that excluded transgender employees from certain types of coverage. The company announced that on October 1st, its healthcare plan would be expanded to “include hormone therapy and other surgical transition services,” which under the previous plans had not been offered.

The issue came to light earlier this month when Dark Horse announced a Pride Month sale featuring inclusive comics such as Black Hammer, ElfQuest, Husbands, and others. The announcement prompted a protest from trans comic critic, podcast host, and former Dark Horse editor Jay Edidin, who pointed out that Dark Horse’s healthcare insurance specifically excluded coverage for “anything related to gender dysphoria & transition,” and that the comics publisher was able to skirt state laws by acting as a self-insured company and providing its own insurance. Edidin’s tweet prompted vocal backlash against the company.

In a statement issued a couple of days later, Dark Horse explained that it took the “issues seriously,” and explained that healthcare is complicated. For “an organization of our size, there are complicated, layered financial and compliance realities that can limit coverage options for small businesses like ours.” In short: it would be expensive for Dark Horse to offer that kind of coverage.

It’s a business calculation that sends a terrible message: medical coverage options for trans employees are a lower priority than those of other employees. Even if the coverage wasn’t offered because there weren’t any trans employees to take advantage of it, it’s a terrible signal to prospective employees who might otherwise seek a job there. The statement also drew criticism because it handwaved away the issue by saying that the company would “continue to explore” the options available transgender employees. As Edidin pointed out, the response lacked any specific language, timeline, or a real commitment to said options.

In response to the policy, comics writer and editor Mariah McCourt said that she was drafting up an open letter to the company, and that she would be making the text of the letter public today. Before it was posted, Dark Horse announced that it would expand its coverage, and apologized for “any pain caused by the previous lack of coverage.”

McCourt provided the text of the open letter to The Verge:

An Open Letter to Dark Horse Comics

As concerned members of the professional comics community-- including creators, critics, retailers and publishing professionals--we are writing an open letter to Dark Horse Comics over the recent discovery that your healthcare plan does not cover necessary care for trans employees. For the full context of the discussion, please start here: https://wakelet.com/wake/ee204051-d412-4d96-9fd0-c4ff1cc8bc9a

We urge Dark Horse Comics to change its employee healthcare coverage to ensure that trans employees have the full and necessary care every human being should be entitled to, including gender-affirming care; and that you make those changes a priority to be enacted as quickly as possible with a clear timeline. Further, we ask that you acknowledge the direct impact your policy has had on your trans employees and potential employees as part of your public acknowledgement that the policy was and is wrong.

Healthcare access is a basic human need--and a significant component of your employee compensation--and denying that access based on gender identity or trans status is not only unconscionable on its own, but a critical barrier to employment for trans comics professionals. It sends the message that Dark Horse, a leading publisher in the industry, does not prioritize the care of vulnerable employees and will discriminate against them in one of the most basic areas of our collective needs as human beings.

This kind of policy lessens comics as a creative field. If we want to claim that we support our community and the people who work within it at every level, then we must support them in our most fundamental policies. We can and should be better than a healthcare plan that rejects trans care. We must actively set an example to other industries and publishers that trans rights are human rights.

Vocal outrage works. Dark Horse was facing a wave of angry fans over a discriminatory policy that never should have been implemented in the first place. Backtracking and offering the coverage to employees helps the publisher save face, but more importantly, it helps provides essential medical coverage that might otherwise be well out of reach for any current or potential Dark Horse employees who might require it.

Update June 22nd, 2018, 3:30PM ET. Included the full text of McCourt’s open letter to Dark Horse.