Trans Advocacy in Federal Election 2008

The federal election in Canada is the time to advocate for our beliefs, reach out to those with whom we find common cause and appeal to the larger circle of those whose good will–though not personal interest, other than a commitment to human rights–who can be allies. These can be called advocacy commitments.

For transsexual and transgender people this has always been a struggle–a really tough slog.

There are a number of reasons for this.

First, our numbers. Though there are as yet no published figures–and we might actually be larger in numbers than even we suspect–we are generally considered so small, certainly fewer than gay and lesbian people, for example, that some have said our human rights can be relegated far down any priority list, definitely lower than the human rights of gay and lesbian people in other countries.

This has certainly contributed in the recent and not quite so recent past to disappointment in individuals and organizations we have/might have looked to and often worked with because we believed there were common goals and advocacy commitments.

As this election gets underway, the Rainbow Health Network (RHN), based in Toronto through its ‘subsidiary,’ the Trans Health Lobby Group/Trans Human Rights Campaign–lead by Susan Gapka–has proposed a national, mainly Internet campaign, for Election, 2008.

It has proposed the national focus be the addition of gender identity to the Canadian Human Rights Act. It is silent on the Criminal Code.

There is little legislative experience in Canada with transsexual and transgender people. Even in the United States, where there is more, gender identity and gender expression are sometimes defined as sexual orientation.

They are not.

When Barney Frank excised gender identity and gender expression from the Employment Non-Descrimination Act–more familiar as ENDA–leaving sexual orientation, he quite clearly understood they are not.

But if it works, I suppose, it is a good thing. Though I remain concerned such inaccuracy sets up problems for the future. In the present it continues the sometimes deliberate confusion that transgender and transsexual people are, at base, gay and lesbian people–and share identical interests.

This, of course, is inaccurate.

However, differing interests do not necessarily preclude coalition and common cause; this is, nevertheless, a difficult task when the lives and needs of some are invisible and, historically, have not been given equal weight in “coalition” advocacy.

I am also concerned with the RHN’s proposal to define gender identity to include gender expression, though not to explicitly state gender expression.

Gender identity has a relatively long tradition, in medicine/psychiatry, of referring to transsexual people. That is, those of us whose identification with the “opposite” sex is so profound we seek hormones and surgery to permanently ‘transition’ from one to the other.

We may not like this body of knowledge. We may challenge it and those who profess it–but the courts are not us; they will most likely defer to “experts” in medicine/psychiatry.

Often, but certainly not always, we seek to express our confirmed sex in traditional, often derogatively referred to as stereotypical or heteronormative fashion.

I do.

There are many who do not.

There are others, usually termed as transgender, who do not identify as profoundly with the “opposite” sex as, say, I do, who do not transition as I have, may not even take hormones or seek surgery.

Transgender people do not seek to live fulltime in the “other” sex–in this context ‘gender’ might be more appropriate.

Though there are many in the United States and Canada who use ‘transgender’ as a single, umbrella term for transsexual and transgender people, it promotes another confusion, though a curious one.

It seems to suggest that all “trans” people do not seek a permanent transition. And yet, the greater knowledge, particularly medical/psychiatric, is not of those who do NOT transition, but is of those who DO–transsexual people.

The advocacy of Egale Canada, of ‘mainstream’ trans advocates in the United States and the only legislation drafted for the Parliament of Canada is for BOTH gender identity and gender expression.

The policy of the New Democratic Party of Canada, adopted in November, 2007, is to include both gender identity and gender expression in the Canadian Human Rights Act. Toby’s Law was introduced into the Ontario Legislature in March, 2007, so I suppose this explains the discrepancy.

However, the Trinity-Spadina riding association in Toronto was one of the two that introduced the resolution at the NDP convention in Winnipeg; were there no people who understood what was coming who were part of the process of drafting Toby’s Law? There is also the question of whether the national policy of the NDP binds the Ontario section, even if the policy was adopted after the Toby’s Law was introduced.

Gapka has pointed out the intention to amend Toby’s Law at committee stage to include gender expression. Why not start out, in this federal campaign, with gender expression an explicit goal? As it already is in Bill Siksay’s private member’s bills.

Now a little bit of history: Before Bill Siksay introduced his private member’s bills into the Commons, he held community consultations in Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver and online. It was the Toronto consultation whose consensus was NOT to include gender expression; the others’ were to INCLUDE it–something about not wanting to confuse the issue or the difficulty of advocating for transgender people.

This was precisely the thinking of Barney Frank when he excised gender identity and gender expression from ENDA: to have transgender and transsexual people included would make it impossible to adopt protections for gay and lesbian people.

And this was precisely the thinking of Svend Robinson when he adamantly refused to include gender identity and gender expression in his private member’s bill, C-250, which amended the Criminal Code sections on Hate to include sexual orientation in 2002. The proposed advocacy is silent on the Criminal Code.

After the fact, both gay men promised to work to protect trans people in the future.

Gapka has said defining gender identity to be inclusive of gender expression will satisfy these concerns. Yet, we really do not know how the courts will interpret these terms, though we can point to a tradition where gender identity refers to transsexual people.

For myself, I expect always to be included, no matter how the legislation is framed. This is not my present concern.

I have always argued, and continue to advocate, that we cannot recreate in our campaigns the same exclusion we have been subject to.

I do not believe this is right.

More than this, I do not believe it is practical politics.

Although there are yet no hard numbers for transsexual and/or transgender people, in practice we all remain in a minority.

In terms of practical politics it is necessary for us to focus on making as large coalitions as possible to win our case. Just because some gay and lesbian people and their organizations have disappointed in this regard, I remain commited to this practicality.

I am told the transsexual population in Toronto is very large and that gatherings can easily number in the hundreds. In Ottawa it is quite different and I have had the frequent opportunity, necessity actually, of successfully working with transgender people.

Though this term–as many I have used–may be rejected by some, the expression of gender variant identities I believe must also be explicitly protected; this must also be recognized as a fundamental human right.

This population is potentially far greater than the transsexual population. It includes gay and lesbian people who do not present stereotypically, straight cissexual people and many transsexual people also.

And our advocacy based on the appeal to formal human rights is far stronger when we include those whose marginalization may even be greater than our own–certainly their silence indicates this.

For myself, I cannot sustain the contradiction of advocating for the same convenient exclusion I have long endured.

One Response to Trans Advocacy in Federal Election 2008

  1. Perhaps we should turn to organizations like

    And argue for a stated case before the Supreme Court of Canada.

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