Time to Lobby MP’s for Transsexual and Transgender People

November 30, 2008

In Canada, we are in a pivotal moment in our political history.

There is an opportunity to unseat the Conservative Party whose Economic Update is completely unsatisfactory. Not learning from the history of R. B. Bennett in Canada–and Calvin Coolidge in the United States–that this is NOT the time to cut spending, raise taxes and sell off public assets in the vain hope of maintaining a balanced or possibly surplus budget.

While the Prime Minister Harper has been spouting what has become the international orthodoxy while away from Canada–that it is time to stimulate the Canadian economy to the tune of 2% of GDP, about $35 billion–at home he has permitted his finance minister–Jim Flaherty–to be the R. B. Bennett of today.

For the first time since Brian Mulroney’s government, the department of Finance’s figures have been challenged by a broad array of independent economists and others. It is a great danger to democracy when the government attempts to “cook the books” in support of an extreme ideology.

The opposition parties have shown strength in opposing this.

The Prime Minister, as the Toronto Star, among others, have said, has blinked.

The opposition parties, particular the New Democratic and Liberal Parties are in discussions to defeat the government and form a coalition for the good of all Canadians.

This gives us a rare opportunity to lobby for the human rights and hate crime protections for transsexual and transgender people.

Below is the basic email I have sent to the Liberal and New Democratic MP’s I have recently been in contact with for the Trans Day of Remembrance. I encourage all who support human rights and hate crime protection to send a similar email to their local MP and to any other MP’s they have been in contact with. Personal changes will carry great weight.

[MP’s name],

I’m writing this short note to encourage you and your party to continue to be strong, oppose the Conservatives’ totally unsatisfactory Economic Update and work to form a new government with the [New Democratic Party/Liberal Party]—this is in the best interests of all Canadians.

When you form the government, I know you won’t forget who B.C. author Christopher Shelley has called “among the most subjugated and marginalized of social groups”—transsexual and transgender people.

As the government, you will be able to proceed with Bill Siksay’s bill to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code to include gender identity and gender expression as a matter of government policy which I encourage you to do at the earliest possible moment.

The lives transgender and transsexual people endure should never have been allowed to happen—this must not be allowed to continue.

If there is anything I can do to help in this project, please do not hesitate to ask.

Jessica Freedman

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Open Letter to Rainbow Health Ontario

September 21, 2008

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


Open Letter on Election Eve

August 29, 2008

On the eve of what will almost certainly be a federal election in Canada, I spent this afternoon sending emails to the Members of Parliament (MPs) I know and to some I don’t.

This is an open letter to all the others, returning, and to all those candidates who are running to be part of the next Parliament of Canada. Among all the decisions, all the issues, all the important matters of state that will roil Canada during the next few weeks, I wish to make a small plea for some Canadians who are not usually considered worthy of attention.

Transsexual and transgender people, for the most part, do not seek the spotlight. We do not run national organizations or publications and are not able to get our message across in the way other marginal people do.

Even the organizations we would look to for leadership in the run up to this election, well, we are on our own, organizationally speaking.

We enter an election in which the serious human rights concerns seem all to be elsewhere. Even the Human Rights Committee of the House of Commons is a sub-committee of the Foreign Affairs Committee. I had asked one of the MPs I know about holding a hearing on the struggles of transsexual and transgender Canadians as a Congressional Hearing on the struggles of transgender and transsexual Americans in the workplace was held this summer in the United States.

Even if there were not to be an election, it is not quite a given–even from those of you who were so supportive of the human rights of gay and lesbian people during the campaign for equal marriage just three years ago and in the life of this Parliament.

As we move into the election campaign, I want to remind you of the void in both the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code. Transsexual and transgender people are the only marginal population in Canada not to have explicit protections as the people we are, in the legislation itself. We might well be recorded in hate crime statistics under sex, that is as women, or under disability, if our diagnoses for gender identity disorder are still current, if we ever had one, or even under sexual orientation–an interesting interpretation of our identity, which has not the same connection to relationships as orientation does.

And it would be more interesting still given the dismissal of our concerns–and utter silence on our human rights–by a senior official of Pink Triangle Press, the parent of the Xtra chain of gay and lesbian papers in Canada. His three columns on Xtra.ca, as well as in Capital Xtra, receive far more profile than anything a trans person could ever write–we are not even part of that discussion. (They are found here, here and here; how can we make our voices heard over this noise?)

Bill Siksay of the New Democratic Party in the soon to be dissolved Parliament introduced two private members’ bills to fill this void. Neither had enough priority even to be debated nor the all-party consent to be voted as a previous private member’s bill had in 2002.

The struggle for formal human rights in Canada has not ended.

This is not the end for once achieved it will permit transgender and transsexual Canadians to join, as equals, in the ongoing struggle for the substantiation of these very rights.

I am fortunate to be able to advocate for issues many cannot. I am able to present this case to you through this open letter, in person and through the media. It is for them I ask you to speak out and for the New Democratic Party, the Liberal Party, the Green Party, the Bloc Quebecois and yes, even the Conservative Party to speak out in this campaign–for human rights are never a partisan issue.

I ask you to speak out not only for those who are your constituents, but for all those across Canada who cannot make this request.

Please, in this campaign, break the silence for transsexual and transgender Canadians.

If there is anything I can do to help, do not hesitate to ask.

Sincerely,

Jessica Freedman


Who is Pierre Poilievre. . .

May 20, 2008

and why is he saying these things about transsexual people?

And does it really matter?

In reaction to last week’s announcement of George Smitherman, the Ontario Minister of Health, that Ontario would again fund transsexual surgery, Pierre Poilievre, the Conservative Member of Parliament for Nepean-Carleton, declared:

“People are waiting too long for basic cancer treatment and MRIs and the Liberal government found money for the (Dalton) McGuinty sex-change program instead.” http://www.ottawasun.com/News/National/2008/05/20/5613551-sun.html

He has also said:

“I think if people want this medically unnecessary treatment, they have that right. But taxpayers should not have to pick up the tab for it,” http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20080520.wsexchange20/BNStory/National/home __._

It is always nice to be caught in a political crossfire, especially by one of the Conservatives’ pit bulls. There is an interesting entry in Wikepedia at:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pierre_Poilievre

He never misses an opportunity to take partisan or personal advantage, especially when he thinks no one will notice or that those he attacks are so marginal that no one will care–or notice.

He was one of those MP’s who opposed equal marriage, though in his speech to the House of Commons he espoused “the Canadian way: respect and tolerance” calling for all the trappings of marriage for gay and lesbian people but not the name. The rest of his speech can be viewed on the Canadians for Equal Marriage website at:

http://www.equal-marriage.ca/resource.php?id=322

Though I wonder where his ‘respect and tolerance’ is for those of us who are even more marginal than gay and lesbian people that even today there is nothing on the Egale Canada website on any aspect of this. But then, the Executive Director of Egale Canada has recently declared that transgender and transsexual Canadians have formal human rights–when she knows this is simply not true, except in the North West Territories.

It is clearly in this void that statements of such ignorant hate and prejudice can be spoken.

It is darkly amusing that Poilievre calls it the ” McGuinty sex-change program” considering McGuinty really wants nothing to do with transsexuals either. In 2003, Dalton McGuinty announced that SRS was “not a priority,” said Susan Gapka, the head of the Trans Human Rights Campaign and the Trans Health Lobby Group on the Xtra.ca website, and would not be re-listed. See:

http://www.xtra.ca/public/viewstory.aspx?AFF_TYPE=1&STORY_ID=4786&PUB_TEMPLATE_ID=2

It is even more interesting that in 2004 Smitherman was on the verge of announcing the relisting of transsexual surgery when Dalton McGuinty, the Premier got wind of it through a story on the Osprey News Service Wire and issued a press release only hours before his Health Minister was to make his announcement.

See: http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/print/CTVNews/20040527/ont_sexchange_040527/20040527/?hub=Health&subhub=PrintStory

Rumour certainly had it that, unlike the bare bones program expected from the current initiative–simply a return to the way it was in 1998 when Mike Harris’ reactionary Conservatives first delisted electrolysis and then surgery completely–the 2004 initiative, developed in part in discussions with Gapka and the Trans Health Lobby Group (THLG), was much more.

Long standing demands of the THLG state the program must be community based and include coverage for hormones, hair removal and counseling.

See: http://www.rainbowhealthnetwork.ca/transhealth

Also see the website of the Trans Human Rights Campaign at: http://www.transhumanrightscampaign.org/

The former program seemed to make the same assumptions Poilievre makes, that transsexual people are well enough off to afford much of their treatment for their own disability–unlike most other marginal people.

Some transsexual people are indeed well off and can afford, on their own, significantly more than the basic surgery. Many transsexual people live in abject poverty. Transsexual women, according to the AIDS Committee of Ottawa are at the highest risk for HIV/AIDS, surpassing even gay men. It is evidence of this greatest marginalization that this fact is quite ignored and raises gales of indignant rebuttal from those who certainly ought to know better.

Some of us are in the middle and in some ways are even more invisible.

In my own case, I spent over $5000 on beard removal and hormones in one year–it was a great financial burden, though I was able to claim a tax credit for all of it which helped some.

I was only able to afford surgery because of the settlement of a human rights complaint.

But to return to Pierre Poilievre and his typically ignorant bravado declaring he will write to Jim Flaherty, the Federal Finance Minister–and a member of Poilievre’s Conservative Party–asking for assurances the federal government won’t fund this ‘medically unnecessary’ procedure.

There is even the possibility Flaherty might also indulge in his own bravado–as part of an ongoing criticism of the Liberal party that makes up the Ontario government. But bravado and bluster is all that it will be.

The Canada Health Act which is the federal legislation governing the way federal money moves to the provinces simply does not define what “medically necessary services” are and despite this great achievement of former federal Liberal Health Minister Monique Begin it is unlikely this government, any more than any previous one, would actually infringe upon a province’s discretion.

In my conversations with Bill Siksay, the NDP MP who is the author of a private member’s bill to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act to include gender identity and gender expression (GI/E) and another private member’s bill to amend the Criminal Code provisions on hate crimes and sentencing directives also to include GI/E, he has made it clear it is not within longstanding tradition to dictate to provinces either to include something as “medically necessary” or to exclude it. And is not something he will attempt.

Sadly.

Smitherman’s press secretary, Laurel Ostfield, is quoted in a Canadian Press story in the Toronto Globe and Mail today:

“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.” http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20080520.wsexchange20/BNStory/National/home __._,_._

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For those even slightly in the loop–such as myself–there is little question the current initiative will be nothing more than what was and that hopes for the positioning of the Sherbourne Clinic–which specializes in trans health, is trans-positive and employs many trans people–as the gatekeeper instead of the old Clarke, now the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) and the home of both Kenneth Zucker and Ray Blanchard, are unlikely to be answered.

There are more than a few ripples going through our communities today and there will be some response in the media in coming days.

However, as with so much concerning us, this seems not really to affect the inevitability of things–even, in this case, the inevitability of something positive.

But then that is the definition of marginalization in society. Whether the stupid statements of someone like Pierre Poilievere or the Executive Director of Egale Canada.ttle

Quite frankly, I’m so glad I’m now beyond what a Ken Zucker, Ray Blanchard, Pierre Poilievre, or the Executive Director of Egale Canada can do–or not do.

Even though it still mightily offends my sense of what is right and what is wrong–and if anyone actually asked for my help, I would be glad to give it. Though in these communities, that is a long shot at best.

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More on Pierre Poilievre

https://jessicalive.wordpress.com/2008/05/26/more-on-pierre-poilievre/