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.