A bill up for debate this month proposes adding gender identity to the list of protected human rights in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The upshot of this bill is that it would become illegal to discriminate against somebody on the basis of their gender identity. Currently, there are no legal protections for transgender, transsexual, or gender non-conforming individuals.
The bill was introduced by NDP MP Randall Garrison back in the fall. This April will open up debate after the second reading of the bill in the House of Commons.
This bill has received remarkably little media attention, but non-traditionally gendered people are speaking out on what a bill like this could mean for their lives. Natalie Reed, a blogger on transgender issues, has written at length on her experiences being discriminated against, misgendered, and denied services — just the sorts of things that people can still get away with when their targets are an unprotected minority group:
How many trans people (including myself) have been openly and loudly misgendered at the welfare office? How many trans women have been kicked out of women’s shelters on the basis of being “really men” and forced to humiliate themselves and risk violence or sexual assault trying to be accommodated by men’s shelters? How many have been turned away from food banks on the basis that they don’t have “proper” identification? How many of us, exposed to this bigotry, humiliation, invalidation and risk simply stop trying to seek work or assistance, and end up falling between the cracks of the system, all because nobody can even be bothered to acknowledge this crucial gap in Canadian human rights law?
She makes an interesting but possibly spot-on analogy to class. At the moment, transgender citizens potentially don’t even have basic human rights: access to emergency services (like shelters), equal opportunity in job interviews, government services, etc. On the other hand, as she points out, there is a lot of rallying around the cause of same-sex marriage.
I find myself increasingly frustrated by the amount of energy the LGBTQ rights movement expends on issues such as marriage, adoption or DADT. It seems like a rather explicitly classist mentality to prioritize the ability of those already comfortably situated as full participants in society to pursue middle-class, nuclear family privileges while others do not yet even have the basic level of protections required to be able to seek employment, or at least receive assistance from institutions like emergency shelters.
I’m not sure I would use the word “privilege” with respect to equal marriage rights, but her point is well-taken. I’m reminded of early feminism, which was largely about equal rights for white, middle-class women, and not women everywhere. It was necessary for other women to speak up to be included in that social progress.
Which is not to say we should all abandon the cause of DADT and same-sex marriage until trans rights have caught up. I don’t think that’s what Natalie is saying either. She goes on to point out that the trans community absolutely supports all of these things.
The issue at hand is that there isn’t more interest and outrage at the fact that discrimination against transgender citizens is legally acceptable. We don’t have to choose one cause or another. If there was a finite amount of attention we were willing or able to devote to LGBT issues, then I might suggest this would be a good time to focus our attention on Bill C-279, and get back to less urgent LGBT topics after it’s been passed. However, since I don’t think that’s the case, I suggest we continue to do all of the above.
Things you can do to help C-279 (paraphrased from Randall Garrison with some additions made):
-Contact your MP and tell them how important this legislation is to you. You can find out who your MP is at http://www.elections.ca/scripts/pss/FindED.aspx?L=e.
-Write to the Minister of Justice and tell him how important this legislation is to you. His contact information can be found here, http://www.robnicholsonmp.ca/contact/.
-Write to the Prime Minister of Canada and tell him how important this legislation is to you. His contact information can be found here, http://www.pm.gc.ca/eng/contact.asp.
-Sign our petition.
-Don’t stop following this issue and talking to your friends about it.
Image credit: Holly Boswell