Trans Rights Are Human Rights

May 14, 2008

Riding up Bank St here in Ottawa this afternoon, past the Canadian Union of Postal Employees (CUPW) storefront, I saw two huge banners–in their even bigger street facing window–in English and in French shouting out for all to see:


It is the slogan of the Trans Human Rights Campaign here in Ontario to amend the Ontario Human Rights Code to include gender identity. To effect this change the current vehicle is Toby’s Law–though only yet a private member’s bill in the Ontario Legislature.

I let out a yelp of joy–I’m sure no one on the bus realized why I was so excited.

And yes, I am SO excited.

The world has changed.

Over the few years I’ve been an advocate for trans people, I’ve known so many who will, in private, express their support but manage not to give public voice to it.

One candidate for the New Democratic Party (NDP) nomination to run for Parliament in my riding in the last federal election spoke movingly about the power of coming out as a gay man in his speech. And yet he responded to my email asking if he supported amending the Canadian Human Rights Act to include gender identity and gender expression (GI/E) by saying he would never say this in public. None of the other candidates were that blunt.

Fortunately, he never did win the nomination.

The outgoing Member of Parliament–Ed Broadbent, a former leader of the NDP–in his speech to the meeting mentioned “all sexual orientations” but said nothing about GI/E, as if sexual orientation said it all–clearly a common misconception and sometimes intention.

One non-candidate for the nomination who gave a speech actually said “all sexual orientations and gender identities.” I went up to her after the speeches and thanked her–I always do this when people declare themselves because it is so rare and so wonderful; she didn’t think it was anything special.

And it shouldn’t be.

I have always why wondered those who present themselves as champions of the marginal and excluded are so unaware and/or unwilling to break the silence about those who remain excluded from the formal articulation of their human rights, probably the last marginal people who are–and as a consequence of this silence remain among the most marginal in society.

In my own case, I know precisely why I was silent–for 40 years.

I was ashamed.

Growing up in the 50’s and 60’s it was part of the very fabric of my being that I could not speak this. People coming along now do not understand how effectively this shame was transmitted, especially to male-bodied children. There was no time when I did not know this shame and the reason why.

No words were needed.

As an adult it took 12 years of therapy–for depression, of course–before I could say the words. And although my psychiatrist had never worked with a transsexual person before, he knew me more than well enough by this time that he gave me my first diagnosis on the spot. Within the year I went to the only doctor in Ottawa who prescribes hormones and the rest is history.

For myself, I realized that to get the words out was quite simply to change the world.

Reflecting, I realized this is the flipside of cissexual privilege and why the world remains silent about people like me and I learned a truth about privilege and its flipside, oppression.

I had expected all gay and lesbian people and their organizations–and especially when they adopt the T–to understand this in a way those who share in the privilege of white, middle-class, heterosexuality just don’t. That they would have examined privilege and understand that, as I now do, it is not so much a stagnant body of water it is, like oppression, a series of cascades.

And that we are all quite capable of it.

I know I am.

But how can they be silent? Or worse, speak what is clearly not true? Is it shame, that maybe if they acknowledge that GI/E is different from sexual orientation they will lose their status in society? And be reviled as so many trans people are?

Or that as individuals they will lose their positions, income and personal privilege? This is not, of course, shame. It is inconvenience.

The struggle for human rights is not convenient and it is certainly divisive.

But on whose side will you be counted?

On the posters on the windows of the CUPW storefront are big, beautiful butterflies.

This has become more and more a symbol used by those few who serve our communities. When recently in Montreal for surgery, I noticed that Dr. Pierre Brassard–pretty much one of the very best, if not the best in the world–uses it. As does Helma Seidl the gender specialist, actually better described as a transition assistant here in Ottawa who has helped me through so much.

Through transition and even more so now post-op and through all the truly metamorphic changes in my life I know that even while their convenient silence continues to offend my sense of right, it can no longer shame or harm me in any way.

I don’t need them. And more importantly, we don’t need them.

The world is dividing into those who are right and those who are wrong. The die is cast.

The divisions will be clear for all to see and the excuse “It was inconvenient” will take its place in history with “I was only following orders.”


Marginal Among the Marginal

May 13, 2008

Transgender and transsexual people do NOT have formal human rights anywhere in Canada except for North West Territories; that NWT does was one of Egale Canada’s most spectacular, if little known, lobbying successes.

This seems to be common misinformation since same-sex marriage became the law of the land–Canadians for Equal Marriage made this error in its last press release; the Ottawa Pride Committee made this same error in its Official Pride Guide at the same time.

All these organizations certainly ought to know better.

An argument can be made that having sexual orientation in federal, provincial and territorial human rights law is meaningless–but I have not heard that message very clearly articulated. Nor have I ever heard any call for removing sexual orientation from these laws.

This is significantly worse for the most marginal of “LGBTQ people in Canada” (no formal human rights is fundamental evidence of this greater marginalization) than the usual silence as it persuades those who might otherwise join in the struggle there is no longer any need.

And it casts those of us who have long been deeply concerned with this and stood up for our human rights–as gay and lesbian people long have and long been our inspiration–as crazy liars and “justifiably” silenced.

It is difficult to understand how one who has signed a letter of support for Toby’s Law–Cheri di Novi’s private member’s bill in the Ontario Legislature to add gender identity to the Ontario Human Rights Code–could make this casual error.

After the purges of transactivists from committees–and expulsion from membership–the secret abolition of the Trans Issues Committee, the retreat from the federal jurisdiction and abandonment of long standing policy to lobby for the amendment of the Canadian Human Rights Act to include gender identity and gender expression and abandonment of the policy to bring over the supporters of same-sex marriage to support this, what are the transgender and transsexual people of Canada to believe about Egale Canada, its staff and Board of Directors?

What are all those whose commitment to equality and dignity for all is profound and steadfast to think?

Is it really so inconvenient and divisive to acknowledge that gender identity and gender expression ARE different from sexual orientation, that they have no necessary connection to sexual orientation and that the message must be different and must be just as loud, clear and long lasting as the message, and the struggle that followed from it, that placed sexual orientation into legislation–and for precisely the same reasons?

I have always wondered why Egale Canada has never had the political will to work with transgender and transsexual people to craft this message and work with us on this necessary long term struggle..

We have watched virtually all American LGB, LGBT, and T organizations come out loudly and proudly from an inclusive ENDA because of their profound belief that T’s are not parasites on the work of the G’s and L’s, but have been part of the same movement from the beginning and that there is no true equality while some of us remain excluded because it is just inconvenient to include us.

(Except for the Human Rights Campaign.)

Can we as Canadians do any less? It certainly seems so.

Two-Thirds Of Canadian LGBT Students Feel Unsafe At School

“We may have human rights for LGBTQ people in Canada, but you’d never know it based on these results,” said Helen Kennedy, executive director of Egale.