Ottawa Pride Invisibilizes Trans People

June 26, 2008

and what you can do about it.

Trans people are the most marginalized of LGBT people. In a previous commentary I discussed objective measures of this, here:

A number of organizations whose mandate specifically includes trans people—often with significant policy promises also—actively contribute to our marginalization.

I have described Egale Canada in Perspective of the Oppressor which can be found here:

Another such organization is Ottawa Pride—which now styles itself Capital Pride—whose website can be can be found here:

To read Ottawa Pride’s Constitution and bylaws and to speak with its promoters is to receive the impression it is an organization inclusive of trans people and works to bring all LGBT people to the mainstream of society.

On the Ottawa Pride website today:

A Human Rights Vigil is planned at Ottawa’s Human Rights Monument with key government speakers, international leaders of the GLBT Community and media personalities. We will renew the public fight against discrimination world-wide where GLBT citizens still face the death penalty in eight countries.

Many here, in the GLBT community have died by different and sometimes violent means. This will be the day to celebrate life and to remember those that have passed before us. In keeping with the 2008 theme ‘Live Your Pride’, we present a Queer Community Town hall event with Ottawa Centre MPP Yasir Naqvi, in partnership with Egale Canada as well as local, federal and provincial politicians in an evening of film, discussion and camaraderie at Ottawa’s City Hall from 7:00-9:00 p.m. followed by the 2nd Annual Human Rights Vigil at 9:00 p.m.

This is a natural development from Pride’s focus in recent years.

One rarely hears about the deaths of trans people, particularly transsexual people and I have never heard the deaths of trans people in Canada mentioned in the three Ottawa Prides I have participated in.

No hate crimes are recorded against trans people so it is difficult to keep track. There is also a certain squeamishness since many trans women are sex workers, so class is an element, too.

However, a quick search of the Remember Our Dead website shows this:

Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Cause of Death: Strangled
Date of Death: August 26, 2003
Source: Toronto Police Department, August 26, 2003
Notes: Cassandra Do, or “Sandra” as her friends knew her, was working as a sex-worker under the pseudonym “Tula” in Toronto, saving up for genital surgery and nursing school. She had many friends. She was found in her 11th-floor apartment. An autopsy concluded that she was strangled to death.

And a review of the website reveals the Xtra West story of the 2003 murder of Shelby “Tracey” Tom in Vancouver:

It can also be found on the Remembering Our Dead website.

In 2005, following Canadians for Equal Marriage and Egale Canada, Ottawa Pride announced that all LGBT people in Canada have recognized human rights and it is time to celebrate. The announcement was made in a spectacular Pride Guide designed by Glenn Crawford. This, of course, was and is quite incorrect. When I emailed my concern to the officers of the Pride Committee they emailed me a private apology some months later and explained they didn’t know.

I appreciate the acknowledgment but the hurt this statement causes trans people in Ottawa to this day requires a statement equal in profile to the declaration in 2005; I have been looking every year for one.

In 2006 the focus of Pride was youth. The GLBT Townhall that year was about youth. However, only gay youth were invited. I learned trans youth had been specifically excluded even though Trans Youth Ottawa was quite active that year and the usual concern, that there are no trans people who can or will participate, was not the reason.

In 2007 the focus of Pride, as again this year, was on the situation in other countries. The films and commentary concerned the violence against gay and lesbian people. These were particularly appalling and there is no question the situation of gay and lesbian people in other countries is very bad.

However, I remember no footage or commentary regarding the lives of trans people, violence against them or their deaths; it is certainly harder to find because trans people are, as in Canada, more marginalized than gay and lesbian people. Though I am sure it is there to be found.

The lack of evidence is not evidence of no abuse, in other countries any more than in Canada; it is merely evidence of greater marginalization.

There was an event at the Human Rights Monument for trans people but I don’t remember it being advertised in the Pride Guide that year or with any of the profile of the abuse of gay and lesbian people elsewhere—it certainly had the air of being a last minute event.

The Pride Guide that year, published by Capital Xtra, made no mention of the greater marginalization of trans people. A letter over the names of Pride Officers declared the focus of Pride was on people in other countries.

I asked Marion Steele, a long time Pride official, about the letter and she told me Capital Xtra did it; I asked Gareth Kirkby, editor/publisher of Capital Xtra who told me the letter was treated as advertising and there was no input from Capital Xtra. I shared my concerns with the Pride committee in its review of 2007.

Marion Steele was one of the Pride Officers I emailed in 2005.

I understand how difficult it is to change direction, especially with many more years of history than the ones I’ve detailed above pushing. But matters of right should not be ignored simply because it is inconvenient to change or that the numbers of those concerned seem small.

Pride has amends to make to trans people for invisibilizing us over the years.

A first step would be to make a simple and direct acknowledgment of Pride’s history and the pain it causes trans people in a high profile statement.

A second step would be to fully recognize our ongoing marginalization as a high profile focus of Pride today as the marginalization of gay and lesbian people in Canada has been the high profile focus of Pride yesterday and gay and lesbian people in other countries is the high profile focus of Pride today.

Some point out it is inconvenient to change the message of sexual orientation because there are so few trans people that when they eventual come out as gay or lesbian it will be unnecessary. This leaves out the medical concerns of transsexual people and all the concerns of those who do not come out as gay or lesbian—gender identity and gender expression have no connection with sexual orientation.

Unless the message is changed, trans people will never be recognized in our totality.

This was one of the arguments against same-sex marriage—it is inconvenient to the many, many more straight people for such a small number of gay and lesbian people to dictate to them what form marriage will take.

Of the many eloquent challenges to this argument I will only cite Sue Barnes, Liberal MP for London Centre, who rose in the Third Reading Debate on the Civil Marriage Bill—the same-sex marriage law in Canada—in the Parliament of Canada to address this point.

In matters of human rights, she said, numbers are unimportant.

It is in Hansard for those who wish to check up on me.

Numbers did not matter when gay and lesbian people in Canada were the debate; numbers should not matter when trans people in Canada are the debate.

I’ve been encouraged to approach Pride again this year with my concerns—particularly considering the Chair this year is a self-identified transgender woman. While I’m quite prepared to help Pride come to terms with its years of invisibilizing trans people—and how this has materially contributed to ongoing difficulties in addressing the objective measures of our marginalization—my personal representations in 2005, 2006 and 2007 proved ineffective at best.

I am not Pride’s most favourite person and, quite frankly, I am not prepared to challenge gay orthodoxy on my own.

That is where you, dear reader, come in.

I appeal to all who agree Ottawa Pride has amends to make to trans people, and not just in Ottawa, for the effects of marginalization spread out like ripples on a pond across Canada and the world. Even as Ottawa Pride and Egale Canada have abandoned trans people in Canada to concentrate on gay and lesbian people elsewhere.

It is important to act if you are trans, or transgender if you prefer, or transsexual if you prefer—we’re all in the same boat here.

It is also important to act if you are not.

Because trans people, as far as anyone now knows, are such a small number we must reach out to allies in the larger non-trans—now often called cissexual or cisgender—world.

This includes not only people who are straight but also people who are gay, lesbian or bisexual because the commitment to dignity and equality for all should know no boundaries of sexual orientation.

To act you can address yourself to the following:

Ottawa Pride:


PO Box 2428, Station D,
Ottawa, ON K1P 5W6


For those members of the GLBTQ Ottawa Centre email list, you can send your concern to:

You could even send your concerns to Egale Canada

its email list:

By Phone: (613) 230-1043

(888) 204-7777

By Fax: (416) 642-6435

By Email:

or the Egale Canada Facebook group if you are a member.

A note on “invisibilize:” An important concept for trans people is our absence despite our clear presence and even acknowledgment in the world. It is part of privilege and its flip side marginalization/oppression, that is, for those more mainstream the qualities that make them mainstream are invisible to them as are those whose lives call into question these qualities.

For sexual orientation, the privilege is called heterosexist or heterosexism and whose marginalization/oppression is called homophobia.

For transsexual people, the privilege is cissexual privilege and the marginalization is transphobia. Julia Serano explores this in her book, Whipping Girl. This has been a very important book for me.

The first time I came across the concept was in Viviane Namaste’s book Invisible Lives and also in her more recent book Sex Change, Social Change. Invisible Lives is, among other things, an exploration of the work of Mirha-Soleil Ross in both of Canada’s “two solitudes” in Montreal and Toronto. Ross started Meal-Trans, a weekly meal for low-income trans people that was the beginning for Trans Services at The 519 Centre in Toronto.

More recently, I came across the term “invisibilize.” I came across it as used by Linda Green on the Rainbow Health Network email list.

Both terms describe what happens to trans people in both literature and real life. Green’s musings on the effects of privilege on marginal people, rending them invisible even while present—and of no importance even while present—resonate strongly in my own life and work.

Unlike “erase/erasure” which seems to suggest trans people cease to exist—I was tempted, for a moment, to use “disappear”–”invisibilize” as well as forcing attention on a coinage, points out we are still present. And I believe that is the salient point.

Green’s essay, with Mandy Bonisteel, Implications of the Shrinking Space For Feminist Anti-Violence Advocacy, has been of great help in my own life and work.


Mandy Bonisteel & Linda Green: Implications of the Shrinking Space For Feminist Anti-Violence Advocacy

Available online:

Namaste, Viviane: Invisible Lives: The Erasure of Transsexual and Transgendered People. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.

Namaste, Viviane: Sex Change, Social Change: Reflections on Identity, Institutions, and Imperialism. Toronto: Women’s Press, 2005

Serano, Julia: Whipping Girl A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity Emeryville, California: Seal Press, 2007

The Most Marginalized of LGBT People

June 26, 2008


are, of course, trans people.

There are objective measures of this marginalization which make comparisons unavoidable.

Human Rights Protections

Trans people have no formal human rights anywhere in Canada except North West Territories. Practically speaking, human rights agencies do accept complaints on the basis of gender identity, but the statutory foundation for these complaints is not gender identity but sex or sex and disability.

But as the Canadian Human Rights Act Review Panel said in recommending the explicit addition of gender identity to the Canadian Human Rights Act

to leave the law as it stands would fail to acknowledge the situation of transgendered individuals and allow the issues to remain invisible.

Transgendered is another of the many terms for trans people.

Hate Crime Protections

Trans people have no Hate Crime protection in Canada.

When sexual orientation was added to the Criminal Code sections on Hate, Genocide and Sentencing in 2002, gender identity and gender expression were expressly excluded.

The curious situation seems to be that if I were attacked in what was proven to be a hate crime the way Statistics Canada would include my crime would be under sex, disability or even sexual orientation, that is, a crime against a woman—of no particular orientation—a person with a disability, giving the impression of someone, say, in a chair or with a mental deficiency or even a gay or lesbian person.

Not one of these categories would address the very real situation of trans people in Canada. In Ottawa I was recently quoted the same statistic I heard a number of years ago—there was one crime against a trans person last year.

Why would a trans person report a crime when crimes against women, persons with disabilities or gay or lesbian persons are underreported as it is—and they have their own categories and much explicit public support?

And even if we did, crimes against us would still be invisible.

Medical Coverage

In Ontario, there is no medicare coverage for surgery, unlike other provinces.

The recently former Minister of Health of Ontario announced that surgery would be relisted, but did not give a date for it to begin. And we do not know what his successor will do.

There is no coverage in Ontario, and nowhere else as far as I can tell, for hormones, counseling, hair removal, breast removal or augmentation or voice surgery. Nor has the matter of those who have been approved for surgery in the ten years surgery has been delisted been addressed—including those who have funded their surgery themselves.

Although an initiative has been announced in Ontario for the investigation of “rainbow” health needs, it remains to be seen whether services for trans people, buried in the needs of gay and lesbian people, will have any priority.

At this time there seems to be so few trans providers, policymakers or consultants, or others acceptable to those who make the decisions, it is clear our concerns will remain invisible for some time to come.

Routine Exclusion from Media Coverage and Discussion

Even though we are enjoying a sort of renaissance of coverage due to the criticism of the Health Minister’s recent announcement of the relisting of surgery, a survey of more usual coverage reveals we are routinely buried in articles about gay and lesbian people—and we are often considered to be gay.

Even when mainstream media speaks of us, it is not directly. Recently, when The Ottawa Citizen made the statement

Transgendered people are even more marginalized than drug addicts

it was only as a swipe against the idiocy of a local MP, Pierre Poilievre, who had criticized the proposed relisting of surgery in Ontario. It goes on to say

they make an even safer target to beat up on This is on the same level of cheap politics as whipping up anger because an academic somewhere received a grant to write a thesis on, say, snail reproduction.

The editorial, “The courage of Poilievre [sic]” contained this case error in the title and made this error

This isn’t to say that people can’t ask whether same-sex operations [!] are medically necessary.

It culminates with the statement

Pardon us if we don’t admire his courage for taking on the all-powerful transgendered lobby.

And this, for those starved for any attention, passes for a positive statement. At least we are mentioned.

In a press release from Egale Canada on its marquee Safe Schools Survey, the caption is “Gay Teens Feel Unsafe in Schools.” Although there is mention of “homophobia and transphobia “ there is no specification of any population other than the “Gay Teens” in the caption. Helen Kennedy, Executive Director of Egale Canada declares

“We may have human rights for LGBTQ people in Canada, but you’d never know it based on these results,”

It seems to require repeating that, other than in North West Territories, the human rights of trans people are not formally recognized. The recognition in North West Territories is widely credited to Kennedy’s predecessor twice removed, John Fisher.

Gay media is different.

The prime example of gay media in Canada are the Xtra papers and the website. In Ottawa, the paper is Capital Xtra.

Capital Xtra has certainly given coverage to particular trans events, including those I have organized, but in daily coverage that would clearly show trans people are part of the overall community Capital Xtra has been very exclusive.

Although Capital Xtra’s editor/publisher, Gareth Kirkby, will speak in public about the “Village” in Ottawa as allowing everyone a “time in the sun” for all LGBT people, as he did recently at a meeting of the Ottawa Police Service LGBT Liaison Committee, in his paper it is exclusively “The Gay Village.”

The most interesting example of this is a cover this past spring showing Glenn Crawford, of Jack of All Trades Design, with Ricky Adams, then an employee of Pink Triangle Services, described as the heroes of “The Gay Village.”

It is curious how Adams was co-opted in the service of a ‘gay-exclusive project’ in that his employer at the time, Pink Triangle Services (PTS), is not a gay-exclusive organization, on the contrary, as it describes itself on its website

proudly serving the gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, two-spirit and queer communities

It becomes more interesting still in a description of PTS in respect of its recent fundraising Gala

PTS is Ottawa’s gay and lesbian social service group.

There is no question Capital Xtra and its editor/publisher know the truth of this.

A number of years ago, when Kirkby was participating in what became the Gay Lesbian Bisexual Trans Two Spirit and Queer Community Centre of Ottawa, Inc, he declared his paper would never call it anything more than the ‘Gay and Lesbian Centre’ or the ‘Queer Centre,’–to mention the rest of us would be ‘absurd.’

Disclosure: Kirkby and his paper criticized me when I was briefly Chair of the Community Centre and stated it should focus on the most marginal of our communities—trans people and bisexual people.


It has long been recognized that HIV/AIDS follows marginalization like a guided missile and that, by definition, those who are most at risk for HIV/AIDS are the most marginalized in our society.

The AIDS Committee of Ottawa has declared that transsexual women are at the highest risk for HIV/AIDS.

Subjective Measures of Marginalization

The subjective measures of marginalization are difficult to point to because they are subjective, yet it is hard to ignore the simple fact that each objective measure either maintains and magnifies the stigma of being trans or tracks its terrible effect.

I can, however, think of three questions, at least, that crystallize this:

How can I point to the law—either human rights or hate—and say “I am included along with women, people of colour and gay and lesbian people” when I am not?

How can I point to the “Village” in Ottawa and say “I am included along with gay and lesbian people” when its main proponent excludes me?

If I knew nothing about PTS other than what I read in Capital Xtra—few other media carry any mention of PTS—would I go to it for help when it is described as “Ottawa’s gay and lesbian social service agency”?

Maybe none of this is important, clearly not to some—and maybe I should just accept I will never be part of the mainstream and always a sort of second class gay or lesbian person.

I, however, cannot.

And I look for help to all, including gay and lesbian people, in bringing about change in both the law and society as so many trans people helped in changing the law to recognize gay and lesbian people.

Disclosure: I worked for Canadians for Equal Marriage—and I didn’t once say “trans,” “transgendered” or “transsexual” when I was working.

Ultimately, we can learn to accept marginalization and delude ourselves the despair we feel and the feeling of not quite being part of things isn’t real—a delusion; I always feel like a ghost at ‘community’ events that purport to be inclusive but are declared “gay and lesbian” or sometimes “queer.”

We are told, and tell ourselves, this is our failure and our fault—and it has nothing to do with gay and lesbian people. And we so often berate and degrade each other for saying this and so much else—a hallmark of lateral violence.

And we are the lucky ones; the most marginal among us we will simply never hear from.

A note on this hierarchy of marginalization/oppression: First off, I understand how distasteful many find hierarchies of marginalization/oppression as used in this commentary to be, but in the current climate when trans people are routinely invisibilized in events and discourse it is necessary to do this.

Others simply object to saying this about trans people.

I have always thought of marginalization/oppression to be, not a stagnant body of water, but a series of cascades from the most mainstream to the most marginal. We are all holders of privilege and invisibilize those more marginal than ourselves, unless we are diligent and open.

Until we approach an equality of power in the way we live our lives and allocate the resources of life, this hierarchy is an unavoidable and necessary tool.

UPDATE (March 6, 2009): In reviewing this commentary, I realize that there has been some progress on the medical services front. In June, 2008, surgery was re-listed under medicare in Ontario, though just four monts too late to help me.

There is still a question as to whether the restrictive conditions the old “Clarke Institute of Psychiatry,” now merged with other agencies to create the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), will change. Its requirements, were always far more stringent than the intersational “Benjamin Standards of Care,” and more onerous than other provincial ‘gatekeepers.’

There are rumours regarding possible to changes to this–but remain rumours at this writing.

And there has been no provision at this time, nor even rumours, regarding other medical and social services mentioned in the body of this commentary: hormones, hair removal, breast augmentation, counselling.

Perspective of the Oppressor

June 8, 2008

The conference of the Canadian Professional Association for Transgender Health (CPATH) at the end of June, 2008, is an opportunity to raise the profile of transgender people—CPATH’s umbrella term includes transgender and transsexual people—the efforts of true allies and providers of essential services and to point to the many ways Canadian society has yet to measure up to what is needed.

Helen Kennedy, the current Executive Director of Egale Canada, has been invited to give a keystone speech on “Transgender Issues Across Canada.”

Although some—most notably Vivianne Namaste—have criticized the quite stellar career of a previous Executive Director, John Fisher (1994 until 2002), it certainly gives a glimpse of how “Canada’s gay and lesbian lobby”–as the Xtra media prefers to call it—could reach out to and work with those The Ottawa Citizen has recently described:

Transgendered people are even more marginalized than drug addicts.

The British Columbia legislature adopted human rights for transgender people in 1998, though it was never proclaimed by the then NDP government, and North West Territories, since 2002, actually recognizes, formally, our human rights. These achievements are widely credited to Mr. Fisher’s leadership and perseverance at Egale Canada.

Under his leadership a significant body of policy regarding the plight of transgender people was created. When I discovered it, Fisher’s successor, a previous board member, confessed he did not know it existed. It may still be available online to show what Egale Canada has committed itself to.

The most recent elaboration of advocacy policy, added to Egale’s ‘policy book’ by the board of directors in 2005, I have never found online.

I have a personal connection to this recent policy—I am a woman of transsexual experience and was a facilitator of its adoption; its lack of availability is my first disappointment. For any organization of Egale’s longevity, more than 20 years and counting, the challenge remains how to keep faith with those whom established policy is meant to better; one recent director told me its not something she supports, so its unimportant.

In 2002, when John Fisher stepped down and Gilles Marchildon took over, the decision was made to put virtually all the resources of Egale Canada into “equal marriage for same-sex couples.” This lead to the creation of Canadians for Equal Marriage and a complicated series of interlocking relationships of personnel, finances, banking, marketing/PR and fundraising between the two organizations.

A substantial and anonymous financial donation from the United States—to be dedicated to same-sex marriage—facilitated this arrangement. Another substantial donation was received in 2006 from Toronto for the same express purpose when the Harper government reconsidered same-sex marriage.

If the situation in the United States, both now and prior to the 2004 presidential election, is any indication—and there is much that is interlocking between the situation south of the border and ours—there may well have been significantly more support for anti-discrimination measures explicitly inclusive of transgender people than for same-sex marriage in Canada, too.

But this option was no longer on the agenda of Egale Canada after the decision taken by a small group of gay and lesbian people in 2002. What the public would support was never explored.

I have detailed elsewhere how, from 2004 to 2007, it was simply “inconvenient, divisive and ultimately unnecessary” for Egale Canada to honestly work with transgender and transsexual people to craft either a single message and advocacy agenda for sexual orientation and gender identity/expression or two co-equal messages and agendas.



And here:

Under the leadership of its current Executive Director, Helen Kennedy, Egale Canada has continued its now overt policy of marginalizing transgender people; the perennial rumours of a major “trans” campaign remain just that, rumours.

A quick review of its website shows, first, silence on the idiocy of Pierre Poilievre and his public musings on the federal government not funding Ontario in its commitment to relist transsex surgery. I have written about this here:

And here:

Immediately clear is Egale’s current obsession with Jamaican “murder music” contradicting its Mandate to advance

equality and justice for lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans-identified people, and their families, across Canada.

Not only for gay and lesbian people in Canada, but also trans-identified people “across Canada.”

From its actions, and a statement by Kennedy, one might believe that we

have human rights for LGBTQ people in Canada

This statement is a prime example of how ‘inconvenient’ it is to craft a message that includes not only gay and lesbian people but also transgender and transsexual people.

Two trends follow directly from these positions of Egale Canada.

The first is worse than silence because, echoed by other LGB(T) organizations, it gives the impression transgender people do have formal human rights across Canada—not just North West Territories—steals hope from those who need it most and dissuades those who might otherwise be allies.

The second trend of LGB(T) organizations, following directly from the previous one and also lead by Egale Canada, is to abandon explicit commitments to transgender people and direct attention to gay and lesbian people in other countries. Ottawa Pride, in 2007, focused its publications and all but one “themed” event offshore. . . .

This is not to say the lives of gay and lesbian people in other countries are easy, they aren’t. Neither are the lives of transgender and transsexual people—whose struggles are arguably more difficult since they are not mentioned.

When Egale Canada abandoned Ottawa in 2007 it abandoned its national advocacy for the human rights of transgender and transsexual people—a commitment that was reconfirmed in the 2005 policy; another disappointment.

This is presented as a necessary cost-saving measure, yet, myself and others begged the Executive Director in 2004 and 2005 to make preparations for the inevitable drop in fundraising after the passage and proclamation of the Civil Marriage Act—widely described as the ‘gay marriage’ bill. These preparations could have been as simple as including trans people—the umbrella term at Egale at the time—in public messaging around ‘equal marriage’ to raise the profile of what is still the silent future, at Egale Canada, at least: the struggles of transgender people.

When the Civil Marriage Act was proclaimed in July, 2005, a precipitous slide in fundraising began that may not have ended. Donor fatigue is evident among those who might have contributed to a major “trans” campaign for those who remain the most marginal of LGBT people–if a foundation had been prepared when their attention was focussed.

Those who begged have now left; some simply discouraged and disappointed; some purged from committee memberships; some expelled from organization membership.

Egale Canada remains in the past.

Now even MP’s are ahead of Egale: Bill Siksay, NDP MP, has in the past year introduced legislation to amend the Criminal Code sections on Incitement to Hatred and Incitement to Genocide and Sentencing to include transgender and transsexual people. The NDP at its national policy convention in 2007 adopted significant policy on transgender and transsexual people that remains absent from Egale Canada’s ‘policy book.’

These sections of the Criminal Code were amended to include gay and lesbian people in 2003.

Incrementalist promises declare gay and lesbian people will come back to help us get where they are now after we helped them—but if they’ve gone offshore. . . . .

Where is the moral authority to pontificate on the struggles of anyone elsewhere when long-standing and re-affirmed commitments to the struggles of those more marginal here at home have been lies?

Helen Kennedy has been invited to speak at the CPATH conference on “Transgender Issues Across Canada” as a keynote speaker. It is unlikely she will comment on the aggressive way her organization has worked against the interests of transgender people since 2002 while, at the same time, pretending otherwise, or her own ongoing active support of the marginalization of transgender people.

Those who took Egale Canada at its “word” and worked to find common cause with the gay and lesbian people who continue to run it in their own exclusive interests will not be silenced. Kennedy’s invitation to this conference is profoundly inappropriate to the goals of CPATH and grossly offensive to all transgender people.

On behalf of those who have been relegated to the margins, I ask CPATH to revoke Kennedy’s invitation, leave Egale Canada where it is and program someone more appropriate—is there not a transgender person with adequate credentials?–who can speak to “Transgender Issues Across Canada” from a perspective other than that of oppressor.

The Cost of Right: A Bargain

June 7, 2008

There is a letter to the editor of the Niagara Falls Review in Niagara Falls, Ontario, published June 6, 2008, captioned “Money for sex changes, but not for diabetics.” It can be found at:

The letter writer, a Type 1 diabetic, wasn’t diagnosed until age 25. Not being diagnosed until after age 18 means the writer was not eligible for a publicly funded insulin pump, which are available only for those diagnosed before age 18.

Early diagnosis “would prevent kidney deterioration and vision problems while promoting a longer life. This would result in fewer trips to the doctor or emergency room.”

I agree.

Early diagnosis of all chronic illness will save enormous amounts of money over the long term and “is not only better for the person with the disease but also less of a burden on the health system.”

I agree.

For transgendered people and especially transsexual people—the specific sub-group of transgendered people who seek surgery—surgery, after hormone therapy and gender transition, alleviates chronic problems including clinical depression, addictions, other self-destructive behaviours up to and including suicide and also the violence, resulting from prejudice and fear, that so often follows transgendered people.

All of these cost far more to society than a very, very small public investment in surgery—as I will detail later.

There is also the cost to society of the lost productivity of all those whose time, just like the writer’s, is taken up with managing, as best they can, their disability.

The letter writer then concludes, quite reasonably, “why wouldn’t they put the money toward an insulin pump program for people over 18?”

I only disagree with the article “the”—referring to the $200,000 a year Ontario Minister of Health, George Smitherman, has said will go to fund “sex-change” surgery.

At the end of the letter the writer proposes a list of what is worthy for public funding: “other lifesaving medical devices that would improve quality of life for anyone with diabetes, cancer, multiple sclerosis or other life-altering disease” or “the use of these funds could be to increase staff in the emergency room, rather than having one overworked doctor.”

“Sex-change surgery,” in the writer’s mind, is “not vital to the quality of a person’s health.” In the understandable challenge of his own life, the writer has dismissed the evils that beset the lives of transgendered people and that are certainly detrimental to the quality of their health—and cost society as a whole.

“Lifesaving medical devices” and “increase[ing] staff in the emergency room” are important and should be on the agenda of any health care ministry—and should have been on the agenda for the decade transex surgery has been unavailable in Ontario.

But for $200,000 a year none of the things this writer has legitimately asked for could ever be funded. This fact is not trivial, though the amount of money we’re speaking of, in the overall Ontario health care budget, is.

There is another point in the letter that strikes me.

The writer uses as justification for ‘lifesaving medical devices” that they “would improve quality of life” for people with “diabetes, cancer, multiple sclerosis or other life-altering disease.” But, for people with gender identity disorder, surgery is “not vital to the quality of a person’s health.”

Why the different test? Why must surgery for gender identity disorder be “vital to the quality of a person’s health” and not “improve quality of life”? For that matter, why isn’t it?

Why are transsexual people subject to a special test, a different test?

When we advocate for human rights we advocate for something not “special,” but simply to be treated with dignity and respect as all should—but transgendered people aren’t because of ignorance and the prejudice and fear that follow—especially when it comes to the allocation of public resources.

The writer accepts implicitly the judgment of medical and other “expert” persons when it comes to who has a “life-altering disease” but quite clearly will refuse to accept the judgment of the same personnel when it comes to gender identity disorder—the diagnosis for those who need transsex surgery.

Smitherman’s press secretary, Laurel Ostfield, was quoted in a Canadian Press story in the Toronto Globe and Mail on May 20, 2008:

“This sexual reassignment surgery is regarded amongst the mental health community as a necessary treatment for a very small number of individuals,” she said.

“It is listed in other provinces, such as Alberta. So, if Mr. Poilievre wants to play politics with people’s health, it’s really rather unfortunate.”

She is referring to the MP for Nepean-Carleton, Pierre Poilievre, who seems to have been the first to comment negatively on Smitherman’s proposal.

My heart goes out to the writer, but I disagree with the premise of the letter’s argument, that if these public funds are denied to transsex surgery they will be enough to support the needs identified.

Now, while we’re talking money, there are two other classes of people who also deserve public compensation and are not yet part of the discussion: those who have been approved for surgery in the decade it has been unavailable in Ontario but have not had the resources to cover it themselves; and those, in this same decade, who have, say, taken out a mortgage, settled a human rights complaint, had a well-paying enough job to save and/or medical insurance to cover it and funded it themselves.

After all, if it is right to cover surgery for those who will be approved starting, well we don’t know exactly when, but let’s say January 1, 2009, why is it not right to cover those who have already gone through the same assessment criteria, the “standards of care,” set out by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH), regardless of whether they have undergone the surgery or not?

The professional people who make the diagnosis in Canada are members of the Canadian Professional Association for Transgender Health (CPATH), a national section of WPATH, and very active.

Here are some ‘back of the envelop’ calculations.

I have used the cost of male to female surgery performed in the world class clinic of Dr. Pierre Brassard in Montreal—probably in the top three in the world today—because NONE of these procedures are available in any form in the Ontario public system. Various of the procedures that constitute female to male surgery are performed in the public sector—mastectomy and hysterectomy—and are available to trans men. The final procedure is very experimental, very expensive, does not always work and is not available in the public sector.

Smitherman’s own calculations are based on 8 to 10 persons a year at about $200,000 a year—or about $20,000 for each transsexual person starting whenever it will start. The fee in Montreal, including 8 to 10 days recuperation at the clinic, is $18,000 for the male to female basic procedure—breast augmentation, voice surgery are extra. There seems to be no provision for homecare in the most vulnerable week after arriving home.

Estimates are that about 200 people have been assessed according to the “standards of care” but have not yet had surgery. This is about 20 a year for the decade for all of Ontario; they are concentrated in the larger cities, especially Toronto.

Even more of a guesstimate, there are about half as many again who have been approved and funded surgery themselves—100 in total or about 10 a year.

For the first group the one-time cost is $3,600,000. On an annual basis for the decade this is only $360,000—a bit more than the $200,000 Minister Smitherman is proposing, but not much.

For those who have been approved and funded surgery themselves, the one-time cost is $1,800,000; over the decade it is $180,000 a year.

All together, if the province had funded these procedures ongoing, the annual cost would have been $580,000, but now a one-time expenditure of $5,400,000—remember, this is in a total annual health care budget of more than $40 billion. For the immense direct savings and untold amounts that would not otherwise be generated, this investment would have paid for itself MANY times over—and still can.

These estimates are extremely generous and is the absolute outside expenditure; what will actually be spent will be less.

This is the cost of right and its a bargain.

The Ottawa Citizen published an editorial characterizing Poilievre as a bully who picked on a population he believed so marginalized it couldn’t fight back.

Transgendered people are even more marginalized than drug addicts. . . . .Pardon us if we don’t admire his courage for taking on the all-powerful transgendered lobby.

The Courage of Poilievre, The Ottawa Citizen, May 21, 2008

The arguments in the letter to the editor are commonly used by those who criticize public provision of transsex surgery.

This writer sees something that seems to be being taken from him and it is an understandable concern.

But limitations on the availability of funds cannot be the reason for denying surgery “that would improve quality of life” of transgendered people.

There is another reason.

Its not a pretty one.

Full disclosure: I had surgery in the Montreal clinic of Dr. Pierre Brassard in February of this year.

The backlash has begun, Ariel

June 5, 2008

and the struggle, too. Where have you been?

Ariel Troster, the Personal Political columnist of, and Capital Xtra, has written a column on our local MP, and bully, Pierre Poilievre.

Her column can be found at “Taking Conservative Comments Personally; Waiting for Poilievre’s Trans Baiting to Backfire”:

I have already written on this matter, which can be found at “Who is Pierre Poilievre and why is he saying these things about transsexual people? And does it really matter?”:

I posted it more than three weeks ago and it has become, and continues to be, the most viewed of my blogs.

The editorial in The Ottawa Citizen she refers to, though not to a far more interesting sentence—more on this in a moment—is important.

The editorial can be found here, published May 21, 2008:

I posted it to my blog with an interesting email from our own MP, Paul Dewar, both of which can be found here:

There has already been a ‘backlash’ which has rebounded to the benefit of transgender and transsexual people, not only in Capital Xtra and on, but also in media most read, some of which I cite in my blogs.

But like the Citizen editorial, Troster fusses more on the ignorant ravings of a conservative MP rather than the plight of transgender and transsexual people—referred to in the editorial as transgendered people.

As a swipe, not undeserved, at Poilievre, The Citizen declares:

Transgendered people are even more marginalized than drug addicts.

It is sadly not surprising Capital Xtra, and its columnists ‘overlook’ the fact that transgender and transsexual people are more marginal than gay and lesbian people, that is, further from the mainstream, more desperate in our lives and struggles and in far greater need of the attention and overt support of those who declare ally status than the gay and lesbian media has historically given.

The secondary status of transgendered people in both the Citizen editorial and this column, which swipes in great glee at Poilievre rather than advancing our cause, is explicit evidence of our greater marginalization.

A number of years ago the editor and publisher of Capital Xtra, and producer of the website, Gareth Kirkby, declared, in a very emotional and very open meeting what became the Gay Lesbian Bisexual Trans Two Spirit and Queer Community Centre of Ottawa, Inc., that he would NEVER print anything other than ‘Gay and Lesbian’, or ‘Queer’, when referring to the Community Centre.

In connection with the Gay Lesbian Bisexual Trans Two Spirit and Queer Community Centre of Ottawa, Inc. I pointed out the greater marginalization of transgendered people than gay and lesbian people–and for this statement I endured several months of denunciation in Kirkby’s paper, Capital Xtra. I believe it was something along the lines of ‘I was dividing the community.’ The fact is, the community is already divided–and refusing to acknowledge it, further marginalizing those already more marginalized, does nothing, certainly nothing to unify it. Quite frankly, I do not believe there can be the sort of “unity” that is envisioned in such statements.

In recent coverage of the Around the Rainbow Project here in Ottawa–the Project is well aware of the necessity to address the marginalization of those not gay and lesbian by actually saying the words–Capital Xtra edited out the Project Coordinator’s stating these words that he clearly considers redundant—anything beyond gay and lesbian. This piece does not appear to be on

Around the Rainbow Project can be found here:

The last time Troster herself commented on transgendered people—for me the preferred term is trans people—as far as I can find, was March 15, 2007, in a piece called “You’ll Find Me at Camp Trans in Michigan; I’m Pitching My Tent on Inclusive Ground,” which can be found at:

I expressed my concern at the time that the struggle, as pleasant as it seems at Camp Trans outside the Michigan Women’s Music Festival—long a symbol, and practitioner, of overt transphobia—the real struggle, as with all struggles, is at home.

It is more difficult for some to heed the inner voice urging one to speak truth to power.

In her current piece Troster declares:

This is not a fight that I have been at the forefront of, given that I am an ally and not a member of the trans community. But the recent backlash has hit me hard, as I’ve seen the issue of whether or not my girlfriend deserves equal access to medical treatment used as a pawn in a Conservative MP’s attempt to rattle up reactionary votes.

To maintain one’s credentials as an ally one must use the position and profile one has been given to help those who are more marginalized than oneself. I have not reviewed her entire oeuvre, but I suspect there are a few more pieces on drug addicts than trans people.

A moment of full disclosure:

Troster was the member of the board of Egale Canada for the National Capital Region, appointed to fill the vacancy created when the previous member resigned. I also applied for that vacancy. At the time, the Executive Director gave me the ‘dessert metaphor’ for why I was not chosen. “When people have a choice between cake and ice cream, sometimes people choose cake instead of ice cream, not because they don’t like ice cream, but because they feel like cake.”

Troster went on to be Treasurer of Egale Canada and a member of the executive during the last manifestation of Canadians for Equal Marriage, a creature of Egale Canada, and certainly had the position to influence the trans-excluding policies of those organizations at a time when there was an internal struggle to include trans people–and bisexual people–on the steering committee of Canadians for Equal Marriage.

If my memory serves, she did not resign until after the struggle was decided the only way it could be decided in Egale Canada.

I have written about the failures of Egale Canada here:

and here:

I cannot remember, nor can those with longer associations with Egale Canada remember, any trans person being that joyful cake instead of ordinary ice cream.