Open Letter to Rainbow Health Ontario

I have received your email informing there is nothing at Rainbow Health Ontario (RHO) for me at this time. Of all the employers I have contacted in the past year, you are the only one who has responded.

Thank you for this.

I received it the same day Susan Gapka, of Trans Health Lobby Group/Trans Human Rights Campaign, posted her email–subject line: Canadian Human Rights Act Amendment to Include ‘Gender Identity’–to the Rainbow Health Network (RHN), which has described itself as a founding partner to RHO. This gives the perk of having membership in RHN required for the Community Outreach Team position for the Toronto Center Local Health Integration Network.

Gapka’s post reminded me of what unnerves about the backrounder you published about RHO and the Community Outreach Team and its purpose.

On page 3, under Information on Rainbow Health Ontario, subsection Why is this resource needed? you state:

Despite significant improvement in human rights of LGBT people in Canada there are deep gaps and inequities in services and in the health status of LGBT people. Many health care providers are uncomfortable when caring for LGBT people and uninformed about the specific health care issues of this community.

LGBT people are rarely included in health promotion campaigns other than those relating to HIV/AIDS. Neither they, nor their health care providers, have accurate knowledge about their health care risks.

I believe it is difficult to make the case that LGBT people are one community, or that there is one set of specific issues for this ‘community.’ Bitter experience has taught that issues of transgender and transsexual people are often only of interest when they are the issues of gay and lesbian people and that those issues specific to our lives–surgery being only one obvious one–will not be of ‘common concern.’

In Ottawa, the only health promotion campaigns seen–in fact an important movement in recent years–is in connection with gay men and HIV/AIDS. While the trans men’s book raised some controversy, the actual work on the ground in Ottawa has little inclusion of trans people; it is unclear what campaigns have ever included trans women–what there is has no comparison to long established traditions for gay and lesbian people.

That there has been significant human rights improvement for gay and lesbian people cannot be questioned. For transgender and transsexual people there remain deep gaps and inequities and it is my concern that unless this sharply divergent status is explicitly acknowledged nothing will change.

History is quite clear.

In 1998, the Canadian Human Rights Act was amended to include sexual orientation. The was about the same time, after a series of Supreme Court decisions on gay issues–including Vriend v. Alberta–contributed to the creation of the doctrine of analogous grounds; this allowed the Supreme Court to take judicial notice of sexual orientation as a ground analogous to those in Section 15 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

During this period, provincial and territorial human rights acts, either because of direct action by legislatures, or indirectly through the effect of the “analogous grounds” decisions, were amended to include sexual orientation.

In 2002, though not specifically human rights, the Criminal Code sections on Encitement to Hatred, Encitement to Genocide and the Sentencing Provisions were amended to include sexual orientation with the passage of Svend Robinson’s private member’s bill, C-250. This was accomplished with rare all party consent.

In 2005, the Civil Marriage Bill was passed, consolidating legal decisions affecting most of the territory of Canada, to formally recognize the relationships of gay and lesbian people–finishing the work of bringing gay and lesbian people from the margins to the mainstream of society, as we argued at Canadians for Equal Marriage (CEM).

On the evening of June 28, 2005–after the Third Reading vote in the House of Commons, Alex Munter, National Coordinator of CEM declared:

there are no second-class Canadians, lesbian, gay, bi and trans people are full members of the community, without caveat or exceptions. We will long remember this proud day.

In December, 2006, after Stephen Harper’s attempt to re-open the debate failed, Lorrie Arron, Munter’s successor as National Coordinator of CEM stated:

As we move beyond law reform, we face the challenge of changing hearts and minds. . .

During this period other, less publicized administrative, regulatory and collective bargaining changes were established for sexual orientation.

Although this period has not seen inaction on the gender identity/gender expression front, results have been disappointing. As a result we cannot say, along with Munter, that transgender and transsexual people “are full members of the community, without caveat or exceptions.”

In 1998, the British Columbia Legislature voted to amend the B.C. Human Rights Code to include gender identity; the government of the day, however, did not proclaim this law. Though Cheri di Novi’s bill has recently been introduced into the Ontario Legislature, no action has been taken.

In 2000, the Canadian Human Rights Act Review Panel, lead by Justice Gerard La Forest, recommended that the Canadian Human Rights Act be amended to include gender identity, adding:

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

Regrettably, none of the recommendations of the Panel have been adopted.

Robinson was adamant in his refusal to include gender identity and gender expression in C-250. After its passage, he was reported to have acknowledged his error and committed to work for the protection of transgender and transsexual people in the future. His successor as Member of Parliament for Burnaby-Douglas, and NDP LGBT critic, Bill Siksay, has made good on this commitment.

Neither of Siksay’s private member’s bills–to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and to amend the Criminal Code–had all party consent even to be debated, let alone voted and adopted. With the federal election even they, in their silence, have been erased.

On a more positive note, in 2002 the legislature of North West Territories amended its human rights law to include gender identity and proclaimed it. It was much easier because of the significant difference between Inuit culture and that in the south.

This became the example for a New Democratic Party election plank in the 2004 federal election–though there was little profile for it.

Since 2002, and particularly during the heady days of 2005, as the cites from Munter and Arron above demonstrate, a political orthodoxy has been established. This orthodoxy, as is clearly indicated in the cites, is that ALL LGBT people have human rights. And because ‘we’ all have human rights it is time to move “beyond legislative reform…face the challenge of changing hearts and minds.”

The best that can be said of this orthodoxy is that it is incorrect.

It is a very real barrier to advocacy based on the truth which we must fight simply to be heard. It is more than what the La Forest Report described: our issues have not simply been silenced, they, and we, have been erased.

All that remains is an imposed unity under the banner of sexual orientation–or nothing.

In 2005, Egale Canada formally adopted a trans advocacy policy that includes both gender identity and gender expression, declares support for Bill Siksay’s private member’s bill to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and “other legislation” and calls for engaging the supporters of equal marriage to support the human rights of trans people.

As drafter of this policy it was my intent also to support legislation such as Siksay’s bill to amend sections of the Criminal Code to include gender identity and gender expression as his predecessor’s C-250 had included sexual orientation.

You will not have heard of this policy because, though formally adopted, it was repudiated almost as soon as it was adopted through studious inaction. In 2007, when Egale Canada abandoned Ottawa, and lobbying Parliament, it confirmed its repudiation of transsexual and transgender people.

On February 1, 2007, the Supreme Court of Canada announced it would not hear the appeal of Kimberly Nixon regarding her case with Rape Relief Society of Vancouver. As is its habit, the Court did not give reasons.

This might have been an opportunity for the Supreme Court to take judicial notice of gender identity, at least, as an “analogous ground” to those in Section 15 of the Charter as it had done with respect to sexual orientation in the late 1990’s with Vriend v. Alberta et al.

An opportunity to dream.

As recently as May 12, this year, the Executive Director of Egale Canada, Helen Kennedy, declared:

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

The reference is to Egale’s Safe School Survey, but looking at the PDF backrounder, you’d never know transgender and transsexual youth exist. I simply point out that the lives of trans youth are not blighted by homophobia alone.

It has come to the point where the former editor/publisher of Capital Xtra, Ottawa’s gay and lesbian paper, part of the Xtra chain, owned by Pink Triangle Press–which excludes both trans and bi people from its Mandate–can declare:

The numbers of gays and lesbians for outweigh those of trans [sic].

as a premise for marginalizing the lives and issues of transsexual and transgender people as similar statements regarding gay and lesbian people in 2005, 2002 and the late 1990’s were intended to marginalize gay and lesbian people. In those days many considered such comments homophobic.

Why would we not now consider these comments transphobic?
Not to mention the revisionism with which this and following columns are rife.

In recent years, in community organizations in Ottawa, there has been much discussion regarding the effect of the alienation of gay men from society on their mental well-being leading to behaviour of significant risk.

I absolutely believe it because I know the same effect as a transsexual woman. All trans people do.

It is unclear, certainly in Ottawa, if there is any formal discussion of this issue. My own efforts to establish a Trans Services Initiative to address this and related concerns was unable to proceed.

During the campaign for same-sex marriage I attended all the demonstrations held in Ottawa, from the smallest to the largest.

The euphoria of the gay and lesbian people present was obvious.

Their exaltation is evident in the triumphalism of the Munter and Arron cites above. Yet, while working at CEM, we were admonished not to mention trans or bi people–Munter’s comment to the contrary notwithstanding–even though there were/are positive effects for trans and bi people even in the silence.

But there is more than silence.

I argued at the time that the Civil Marriage Bill, speaking in terms not of ‘a man and a woman; a man and a man; a woman and a woman’ but simply “two persons,” is really far more radical that CEM/Egale Canada, and others, wish to admit.

The law makes no reference to gender, sex, sexuality, gender identity or gender expression.

Why must it be particularized to sexuality?

For myself, I was never able to share in the euphoria of these demonstrations. Unnerving me were always questions:

Why cannot this issue be generalized to include us as we are?

Why will they not acknowledge our contribution–even our existence?

Are they ashamed of us?

Are they embarrassed by us?

And this is why your backrounder for RHO so unnerves me.

I understand making explicit the way the lives and needs of transsexual and transgender people diverge from gay and lesbian people is widely considered inconvenient and unnecessary–because most of us will probably/eventually come out as gay or lesbian. I understand that many also find this project divisive and believe the lives and needs of all LGBT people must explicitly converge.

This is not constructive in any way for transgender and transsexual people.

If “there are still gaps and inequities in services and in the health status” of gay and lesbian people despite a good decade of significant progress–and I do not challenge this–how much worse must it be for transsexual and transgender people who not only have not made progress, but continually have our status materially misrepresented and/or erased?

When will we be formally welcomed from the margins to the mainstream?

To achieve significant progress our current status must, as the La Forest Report declares, be acknowledged.

I had hoped, as an insider, to challenge what is not simply silence, but a routine erasure of transgender and transsexual people, our lives, our struggles, our needs. But as an outsider, a routine experience for transsexual people, I do not see this as a practical possibility.

And it is in this context that I really do not understand your invitation to sign up for the RHO newsletter or as a possible volunteer in projects organized in the same manner as your backrounder.

It is difficult enough anywhere north of Steeles Av to participate meaningfully in Toronto based, nominally provincial organizations trying to contribute–as I have with Ontario Public Interest Research Groups, Ontario New Democratic Party, Trans PULSE Project, Trans Human Rights Campaign, Rainbow Health Network and now Rainbow Health Ontario.

I accept that Rainbow Health Ontario is the only game in the province but I implore you to reconsider the way you have conceptualized your mandate, the way you have conflated very different people to make the challenges to the health and well being of all LGBT people seem simpler than they really are to make them politically palatable.

There is no doubt political considerations exist, but the health and well being of all LGBT people cannot be held hostage to them, certainly not given what we have accomplished and all we must yet accomplish.

Sincerely,
Jessica Freedman

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One Response to Open Letter to Rainbow Health Ontario

  1. Bodhi says:

    Dear Jessica …

    I am a 110% gay man -I never had a trans moment in my thoughts. I was married to the most wonderful same gender partner for 37 years – and legally married to him when it became possible in 2003 – Unfortunately cancer almost floored me and actually took him from me 3 years ago now.

    As part of my rejoining Society, I joined the RHN – and was astounded at the presentation that first evening by Rebecca Hammond. I was fascinated with her lecture on trans issues and was blown away by her admission of being trans herself … she totally passes as cis …

    I am now on an urgent learning process on this issue – I am appalled by the gaps in so many areas for trans folk – a number of whom I now consider friends. I have also joined the sub-group for which Susan Gupta is the Chair – the Trans Health Lobby Group, and from their the TransAcademics Group … What I see supports your observation that the “LGBT” sancified appelation is inherently false. “GLB” issues are completely different from Trans issues – we all see it, we experience it. I clearly have gay friends, lesbian friends, and more recently trans friends.

    Although I am an ordained Tantric Swami (for over 30 years), I was accepted as a Member and resource by the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC Toronto) who have struggled for years with this issue. Recently their Diaconate has made it a mission to understand the trans facts after the suicide of a recent trans immigrant supported by the Church … And so my personal interest in this issue will likely reach others as I have been asked to report and have been promised support – whatever that means.

    So I ask all trans folks – those who know me and those who don’t – help me on my path of awareness of the issues and the wisdom to know how best to offer my resources to the cause … I am like it or not becoming a trans activist …

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