I submitted this column to Herizons magazine earlier this year, and Bill C-279 has since been reintroduced in Canadian parliament and gone through its second reading on April 5th. These latest developments have attracted little media coverage, but the bill needs widespread public support to help push it through. Please contact me if you have any questions, or if I could assist in providing information or contacts of trans rights activists.
This column was originally published in the Spring 2012 issue of Herizons magazine.
Recently, Toronto’s CIUT Radio invited me onto a talk show to talk about the top sex stories in the media headlines. We discussed the SlutWalk protests of last year and the Bedford case that struck down Canada’s prostitution laws as unconstitutional.
After predicting that transgender rights would be the big story of 2012, I left the show feeling optimistic that momentum would continue to grow for the transgender rights movement. But when I talked to my friend, trans rights activist and alternative media producer Tami Starlight, she painted a bleak picture.
Last year, Bill C-389, a private member’s bill sponsored by NDP LGBT critic Bill Siksay, was rolling through Parliament. It proposed to prohibit gender identity and gender expression as grounds of discrimination in the Canada Human Rights Act and to amend the Criminal Code of Canada to include gender identity and gender expression for offences motivated by bias, prejudice or hate. Despite controversy around the bill, it passed the House and had moved on to the Senate. But when the government fell in March and an election was called, Bill C-389 died on the order paper before it was officially ratified through the House and Senate.
“If there was any momentum in the trans community, that just sucked the energy right out of it,” said Starlight. “We were just beside ourselves because we knew the bill had died. And Bill Saksay was also retiring. What could we do?”
Even though the new NDP LGBT critic, Randall Garrison, reintroduced the bill last September, it is less likely to pass with a Conservative majority in the House. There is also a limited number of private member’s bills that can go through readings at a time, and bills are selected by lottery.
Starlight describes the trans rights movement as scattered and isolated because of factors such as discrimination, oppression, poverty and the geographic distance between trans communities.
It’s been difficult to revive energy within the deflated community to rally, she says, for the passage of the new bill.
Then, in January, the trans community was outraged to discover a 2010 amendment to Transport Canada regulations that allows air carriers to prohibit transporting a passenger if the passenger does not “appear to be of the gender indicated on the identification he or she presents.”
My Facebook and Twitter feed were filled by people posting links on the issue and encouraging their friends to lobby for the removal of the regulation. While there is no record of a trans person being denied the right to travel because their gender didn’t appear to match the gender on their passport, the story brought attention to the institutionalized injustices that trans persons have to deal with in their day-to-day lives.
For instance, depending on provincial laws, trans persons may not be permitted to change their identification documents to reflect their chosen gender identity.
Meanwhile, religious right-wing groups are out to brand transgenderism as a dangerous disease. Speaking in opposition to Bill C-389, REAL Women of Canada president Gwen Landolt said, “The bill’s extremely dangerous. It’s all right to be in favour of human rights, which we all support, but this is being in favour of a mental illness and playing in to it. It’s not good for individuals, let alone society.”
Trans activists are already weary from battle. They could use some support from their allies who believe transgendered individuals deserve the same human rights as “cisgendered” individuals. According to Starlight, allies can help by “staying involved, supporting trans organizers and challenging antitrans organizations.”
Unfortunately, not all feminists have been strong allies for trans persons. In 2002, Vancouver Rape Relief found itself facing a human rights complaint (now at the B.C. Court of Appeal) involving its refusal to offer peer-counselling training to a transwoman, Kimberley Nixon, on the grounds that doing so would threaten the organization’s right to maintain a women-only space. The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal found that Nixon’s rights had been violated, but the B.C. Supreme Court overturned that decision and the case is currently on appeal.
I’m reminded of how, during the early days of the 1960s women’s movement, some feminists shunned lesbians because they feared that embracing homosexuality might taint the movement. Yet we have learned that feminism is a movement that continually needs to evolve. By recognizing mistakes and oppressions, feminism can become a more inclusive movement, one in which more people—including those who are transgendered—can find a place.
With support from more Canadians, Bill C-279, as the new trans bill is known, might have a chance. Visit www.egale.ca or sign the petition at http://www.change.org/petitions/members-of-canadian-parliament-and-senate-pass-bill-c-279-the-trans-rights-bill.