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.

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, 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.


Jessica Freedman

The Only Highway

July 28, 2008

In Memoriam

Shelby “Tracy” Tom

Cassandra Do

Both Murdered in 2003

On July 16, 2008, Capital Xtra and the website, published an editorial by Gareth Kirkby, editor/publisher of Capital Xtra and producer of the website. It can be found here, one of its many titles is “Highway to Nowhere”:

It is something of a denunciation of this writer―not the first to appear in Capital Xtra or on the website.

As a discussion of transgender and transsexual people it is curious: there is no mention of the void in fundamental human rights recognition―as if it has passed out of the discussion.

This skillful omission allows Kirkby to declare “The numbers of gays and lesbians far outweigh those of trans [sic]” and to dismiss our lives and struggles as having no significant importance either for gay and lesbian people―at least those Kirkby speaks for―and for the general public because our numbers are, apparently, small.

As with bisexual people, this is a matter of some contention as there are so few estimates even approaching some sort of accuracy regarding the numbers of transsexual and transgender people in Canada―not to mention the challenge in categorizing us.

Kirkby’s argument is quite the same one used by those opposed to gay marriage in the early 00’s and also by those in the 90’s opposed to the formal recognition of the human rights of gay and lesbian people.

The argument used by supporters of gay marriage, in the Commons and out, and of the recognition of the fundamental human rights of gay and lesbian people, to counter is that where fundamental human rights are concerned numbers are not important.

Why would it be any different for transsexual and transgender people?

Leaders of a once more marginalized minority using arguments used to marginalize them to marginalize others was something that quite surprised me when I first heard it from a vice president of Egale Canada on its main email list in 2005. But no longer.

I believe the use of such arguments is an objective measure of our ongoing marginalization. Especially if used as unselfconsciously as Kirkby does―and apparently accepted just as unselfconsciously by some.

In his editorial, Kirkby declares that

the trans struggle is one of gender expression.

This is often the way many authorities, following in the footsteps of Judith Butler, diminish the struggle for the recognition of our identities, especially of transsexual people, asserting that all gender, identity as well as expression, is simply a performance and of no deep substance.

For those who have never questioned their sex this doesn’t mean much―and is not easily understood―and cannot be used to marginalize them.

We do not expect all heterosexual people to understand the lives and struggles of gay and lesbian people and we describe this as heterosexual privilege―the conviction their lives are normative. When they assume their approach to sexuality is the only appropriate one and act on it, we call these actions heterosexism.

In much the same way, we do not expect all cissexual people―those who are not transsexual―to understand the lives and struggles of those who question their sex and we describe this as cissexual privilege―the conviction their lives are normative.

When they assume their approach to sexual identity is the only appropriate one and act on it, we call these actions cissexism.

There is a parallel argument regarding transgender people. We do not expect all cisgender people―those who are not transgender―to understand the lives of those who question their gender and we describe this as cisgender privilege―the conviction their lives are normative.

When they assume their approach to gender identity is the only appropriate one and act on it, we call these actions cisgenderism.

To be sure, there are many overlaps between transsexual and transgender people―but to pose the terms in this manner achieves a clarity often missing.

Kirkby also declares

The progress to date for gay rights has been accomplished largely through the involvement of middle-class (and now largely middle-aged) gay men and women who have organized the groups, led the occasional demonstrations and funded the legal challenges

This statement does a disservice to all the transsexual and transgender people and cissexual/cisgender people―who are neither gay nor lesbian―who have contributed money or expertise or volunteered to help gay and lesbian people move from the margins to the mainstream―in the present as well as in the Compton Cafeteria and Stonewall Riots.

I myself worked for Canadians for Equal Marriage (CEM).

The MP’s who voted for the Civil Marriage Bill, and all the allies of same-sex marriage, once on a database in the possession of CEM, were not all gay and lesbian but were those who believe in dignity and equality not to mention justice for all―and who believed the way to this overarching goal at that historical moment was the recognition of the fundamental rights of gay and lesbian people.

This is even as the leaders of CEM and Egale Canada stated the matter at the time.

The demonstrations in support of equal marriage in Ottawa were very diverse events. Not only were gay and lesbian people there, there were many transsexual and transgender people (not reported in Capital Xtra) as well the overwhelming majority were non-trans and non-gay people.

It is commonplace almost everywhere that the struggle for equality cannot be accomplished by those whose rights are in question alone.

In the same issue of Capital Xtra, and also on the website, there is a column by Marcus McCann, recently appointed Managing Editor, captioned “Maintaining our freedoms is about more than hanging on with our fingernails.” In it, McCann declares:

The gay days have come crashing down around us. . . . Of course, gay rights in Canada are here to stay.

After a review of the rise and fall of gay culture throughout history, which is basically what the column is, he states

But not Canada, surely. Not in the age of the Charter.

In the two columns, this is the closest either writer comes to mentioning human rights or equality. Then McCann goes on to call for allying with other groups, but not a single one is concerned, in his recitation, with either the formal or substantive role or recognition of human rights.Presumably this is why his struggle cannot ally with trans people.

That gay and lesbian leaders and organizations, not only Capital Xtra, have left the struggle for human rights is worth a commentary of its own―which I will be posting soon. In the short term I can offer a comment from a well-placed leader of the campaign for equal marriage, Laurie Arron.

Arron was the last National Coordinator of Canadians for Equal Marriage (CEM) and Director of Advocacy for Egale Canada. Arron’s association with CEM, a creation of Egale Canada, had gone back to the public announcement of its creation on September 12, 2003.

When I began working with Egale Canada in early 2004, Arron was already well-established as Director of Advocacy―his major role was, however, not with Egale Canada but with CEM.

After Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s motion to re-open the debate was defeated on December 7, 2006, a press statement was released by CEM over the name of Laurie Arron reading, in part

As we move beyond law reform, we face the challenge of changing hearts and minds, and of making everywhere across Canada safe and welcoming for LGBT youth, LGBT seniors, LGBT families and their children.

From my own conversations with Arron throughout my time with Egale Canada and CEM, I know he was very well aware of the extensive “law reform” required to bring transsexual and transgender people from the margins to the mainstream―as indeed gay and lesbian people have moved, culminating with the recognition of their relationships in the Civil Marriage Law and Parliament’s rejection of re-opening the debate, celebrated by his statement.

I am unable to fathom why such prominent leaders of the gay and lesbian community―as measured by their roles, positions and influence―would abandon the struggle for human rights.

At one time the argument, as we used at CEM, was that the recognition of the human rights of gay and lesbian people―equal marriage was part of this human rights struggle―was part of the struggle for equality and dignity for all.

Abandoning the struggle for human rights in Canada might well be a significant reason the gay political movement has fallen on hard times since the passage of the Civil Marriage Law. The imagination of Canadians is inspired by the struggle for human rights. All Canadians, not just LGBT Canadians.

There remains one place where this inspiration might come from in the future.

For the one marginal and identifiable minority which is arguably, if not actually, the only one whose human rights have not been recognized not to have its struggle even mentioned in passing, in Capital Xtra, and seemingly declared already achieved by Arron, is curious.

Why would the leaders of the struggle that placed them in the forefront of change that expanded the realm of freedom for all abandon this struggle?

These gay men, and those they speak for, have excluded themselves from the struggle for fundamental human rights.

It is sad.

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.