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.
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:
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.