“Laws cannot change people’s hearts. But they can restrain the heartless.” Rep. Linda Sanchez at recent U.S. Congressional Hearings on Transgender Discrimination in the Workplace.
Something is Not Right
I started volunteering at Egale Canada in early 2004 soon after I came out. I had transitioned quickly but was still very shy and was looking for places to be myself in safety.
I was volunteering in the Egale Office before I ever heard of the Trans Issues Committee.
It had been 15 years since I’d been involved in any kind of what I soon learned was advocacy work. It was a heady time to be there. Egale had just moved to a new, larger space and there were so many computers—I remember being so surprised..
The work they were doing seemed so important and I believed it would have positive effects for all even though I never thought of myself, then or now, as gay. I really believed that bringing gay and lesbian people from the margins to the mainstream—which was what equal marriage was—would have a liberating effect on my own life as a transsexual person. When gay and lesbian people were brought to the mainstream it would open up possibilities for transsexual people.
This was the language we spoke.
I soon found the Trans Issues Committee and became very involved.
But as I did I began to have doubts about the way things worked. It was very quickly clear that while things moved quickly for equal marriage—press releases would go out in hours—things moved very slowly for trans people—press releases could take days to get out.
It was clear the rules were different.
Even after I became chair of the Trans Issues Committee in 2005 press releases had to follow the rules. Yet, the rules never seemed to govern matters of concern to gay people. The press releases I drafted had to be short and in response to issues in the news—the theory being no one would pick them up otherwise.
But press releases for equal marriage could be “long rambling essays”–as Gilles Marchildon, then Executive Director, once described Laurie Arron’s (Director of Advocacy) press releases–that didn’t have to be responsive to anything in the news–and it was not always clear they were even issued by an organization called Egale Canada.
In 2005, I explored the Egale Canada web archives and found the history of John Fisher’s (previous Executive Director) lobbying for trans people; Marchildon confessed he’d not known about this past of Egale until I’d pointed it out. This was a surprise.
That year, I drafted a policy on Egale advocacy for the addition of gender identity and gender expression to the Canadian Human Rights Act—either in support of MP Bill Siksay’s private member’s bill, or any other bill, preferably a government one, that would do the same.
On April 14, 2005, the Board of Directors of Egale Canada adopted this policy in its usual manner, including an “intersectional analysis,” part of Egale Canada’s commitment to what other institutions call anti-oppression.
There has been recent commentary about the need for “gay” organizations to have discussions about whether to be involved in “trans issues.” I had thought following usual policy protocols would have constituted such a discussion.
But nothing happened.
That was the year I first applied for a board vacancy. Nothing happened in that regard either.
In about 2002, “EGALE, Equality for Gays and Lesbians Everywhere” as the usage then was, or “EGALE” was changed through a Bylaw amendment to cease being a capitalized acronym to be just a phrase, “Egale Canada.” This was done, in part, to recognize there were members who were not gay but transgender and transsexual. Yet, there never seems to have been an actual announcement of this change, a kind of having it both ways for many media and others seem never to have heard of this change in name, which was supposed to indicate an openness to transgender and transsexual people.
A metaphor, perhaps. Over the years, the organizations I am exploring in this commentary, seem to want to have it both ways, for internal consumption there are processes that lead to apparent inclusion, but publicly there is silence, denial or dismissal.
I would have thought the process that lead to this name change also constituted a discussion about whether to be involved in “trans issues.”
I worked for part of 2005 for Canadians for Equal Marriage. We never agreed on a precise title for what I did, but something like “regional media coordinator” has always seemed pretty close. We never spoke about trans people; we always spoke about gay and lesbian people.
I was in the Commons Public Gallery for the vote on Third Reading of the Civil Marriage Law. After we went to a club in the Byward Market and heard Alex Munter speak. I cite his climactic paragraph later. But I have never understood why the speech declares trans people have full citizenship, “without caveat or exceptions.”
Two months later, Ottawa Pride declared “All LGBT people in Canada have human rights and it is time to celebrate.” I simply could not believe something so incorrect could be trumpeted so loudly. That was my second Pride. I have never felt more than a ghost at any Pride ever since.
A year and a half later it was very clear the policy I had helped facilitate would never be the basis of any action by Egale Canada.
It was the time Laurie Arron made his statement after Stephen Harper’s attempt to re-open the question of Civil Marriage failed. Arron declared we were now passing “beyond law reform” and it was time to change “hearts and minds.”
And yet, no legislative reform had or has been accomplished for trans people—except North West Territories.
I have been trying to understand how this state of affairs could be. This commentary is one of my attempts to find some understanding and some peace.
I believe what has happened is a sort of ‘gay political orthodoxy’ has been created which, quite frankly, flies in the face of the facts.
Possibly more important, this ‘orthodoxy’ defies what the equal marriage campaign, even the entire struggle for the recognition of the human rights of gay and lesbian people, demonstrates about the political passions of Canadians.
Gay Political Orthodoxy
Political orthodoxy is not usually something declared explicitly but rather built up over time, supported by statements made at crucial points by leaders—both recognized and self-appointed—which guides understanding of politically significant events and trends and reinforces it when necessary.
I was unable to find a definition of “political orthodoxy” in a Google search; all I found were definitions of dissenters from, and references to religious orthodoxy. Though given the reaction to dissenters, political orthodoxy could well be religion.
In this commentary I explore what has become gay political orthodoxy in Canada.
I do this by examining statements made by leaders of the gay community in Canada as defined by their positions in the organizations they lead and the actions/inactions of their organizations. I would argue, if argument is necessary, that they and their institutions have lead in successful struggles for the recognition of the fundamental human rights of gay and lesbian people, the establishment of hate crime protection for gay and lesbian people and the legal recognition of the relationships of gay and lesbian people.
Basically, these organizations and their leadership have charted the path of gay and lesbian people from the margins to the mainstream—with the substantial help of those, neither gay nor lesbian, who have been inspired by the struggle for equality and dignity for all.
Because of the relationships of these organizations to transgender and transsexual people—including us in formal Mandates and making formal promises, i.e. policy commitments—their statements and actions/inactions have great impact on the status of and prospects for transsexual and transgender people achieving formal recognition of our fundamental human rights and the establishment of hate crime protection.
There is also the residual role these organizations play for both the gay and lesbian community and mainstream society as well; though their voices may be fading, they remain stronger in both the gay/lesbian and straight communities than do those of individual transgender and transsexual people and what trans organizations that do exist.
Even those organizations that do not include transgender and transsexual people in either their Mandates or policies also make universal statements of some profile that also impact what is or isn’t possible for transsexual and transgender people and whether it is possible in the near or not so near future.
In 2005 the Civil Marriage Bill became law. Much current political history for all LGBT people in Canada begins here.
The organizations that lead this struggle, Egale Canada and its creation, Canadians for Equal Marriage (CEM), were very clear about this achievement.
After the vote on Third Reading of the Civil Marriage Bill, June 28, 2005, Alex Munter, National Coordinator of CEM, made the following statement, posted on the CEM website:
In a generation, Canadians will look back on a time when lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people were denied full citizenship, just as we look back on the days when women or Aboriginal people could not vote or times when Canadian citizens were interned because of ethnic origin. We will talk about these days and this battle. We will be proud, as Canadians, that we rejected rejection, that we ended exclusion, that we said to LGBT people: 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.
Munter places the recognition of the relationships of gay and lesbian people in the history of achievements of human rights in Canada–as the final step: “we rejected rejection, . . . we ended exclusion.” I remember him giving the speech and remember him looking at me when he got to the line “there are no second-class Canadians;” he looked straight at me.
I guess he didn’t see me.
It shouldn’t need stating, though in the face of such rhetoric it must be, even today, three years later, transsexual and transgender people are still denied the full citizenship granted gay and lesbian people, first with full recognition of gay human rights a decade ago, a full seven years before Munter’s triumphant declaration.
In this euphoric atmosphere of triumph, Ottawa Pride declared in its Pride Guide 2005, only two months after Munter’s statement, “All LGBT Canadians have human rights and its time to celebrate.”
I emailed the Officers of Ottawa Pride, including Darren Fisher and Marion Steele, to point out the inaccuracy of this celebratory statement and how hurtful it was and remains to transsexual and transgender people who, even today, have no reason to celebrate. Some months later I received a personal email stating Pride did not know the status of transgender and transsexual people and apologized.
I think, in simple decency, a more public acknowledgment of this error is necessary—certainly something equal in profile to the statement of error. I have looked in vain for such in the years since.
In 2006, the focus of what was then called the GLBT Town Hall of Ottawa Pride was Youth. Trans youth, however, were excluded.
Ottawa Pride officials have often bemoaned there are not enough transgender and transsexual people to participate in Pride activities. Yet, in 2006, Trans Youth Ottawa (TYO) was quite active as an independent youth group in Ottawa.
If Pride had reached out to TYO it is clear some representatives would have been delighted to participate. In the years since I have had the opportunity of contributing to boards of community organizations and events with a number of TYO members. Two have been awarded Community Hero Awards by Capital Xtra, Ottawa’s Gay and Lesbian paper.
In December, 2006, Prime Minister Harper’s attempt to re-open the debate on gay marriage failed. On this occasion the new National Coordinator of CEM, and Director of Advocacy for Egale Canada, Laurie Arron, made, in part, the following statement, posted on the CEM website:
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.
Arron is building upon the assumptions in Munter’s exultation, since we are all “full members of the community, without caveat or exceptions” we now must “move beyond law reform” to “face the challenge of changing hearts and minds.”
It shouldn’t need repeating, but in the face of such repeated rhetoric it must be; transgender and transsexual people are still in need of reform of the laws concerning human rights and hate crimes–the very laws already amended to include sexual orientation.
In 2007, Ottawa Pride, building upon what were now well-established and mis-informed themes, declared its focus was gay and lesbian people in other countries in Pride Guide 2007 over the names of Pride Officers. This statement was silent on the void in Canada as if there were nothing left to be accomplished here at home.
Again concerned about the erasure of transgender and transsexual people, I asked the then editor/publisher of Capital Xtra, which printed and distributed the Guide, where the letter came from; Gareth Kirkby stated it came from Ottawa Pride and Capital Xtra treated it as advertising and didn’t touch it. When I asked Marion Steele, one of Pride’s long standing officers, she told me Capital Xtra had created it.
There was a somewhat impromptu event at the Human Rights Monument on trans people that year. I spoke. But it seemed to be unadvertised on the Pride website, in the Pride Guide or in any media release or coverage.
I raised concern at the Pride post-mortem—and believed a commitment had been made to address what Pride officials present seemed to acknowledge was serious.
The last time I looked at the Constitution and Bylaws of Ottawa Pride, they included trans people; I believe the ‘umbrella’ term used is “transgender.” (Many trans people are not transgender and consider themselves transsexual people. This is why I avoid the use of an ‘umbrella’ term, prefering to state “transsexual and transgender people;” sometimes I use the term “trans.”)
In 2007, Egale Canada abandoned Ottawa and the lobbying of Parliament that had proven so successful, not only in passing the Civil Marriage Law, but also the 2002 amendments of the Criminal Code sections on incitement to hatred, incitement to genocide and sentencing provisions to include sexual orientation.
In doing so Egale Canada abandoned its 2005 policy commitment to advocate for amending the Canadian Human Rights Act to include gender identity and gender expression. This was the same year Egale Canada purged trans members of its Trans Issues Committee–including then current and former chairs–and Intersections Committee and expelled at least one trans person from membership without the due process promised in its Bylaws.
As best as one can ascertain of an organization that works in secret, both these committees have now been dissolved.
In May, 2008, Egale Canada released the results of what is called on the Press Release on its website “Egale Canada’s National Survey on homophobia and transphobia in Canadian Schools,” though it is captioned “Gay Teens surveyed Feel Unsafe in School.” In it Helen Kennedy, current Executive Director of Egale Canada, declares:
With this statement, transgender and transsexual people have been completely absorbed into gay and lesbian people; the differentiating characteristics–gender identity and gender expression–have been erased, even though the residue of our existence, the “T,” still seems to have a place.
This is a straight line from Munter to Arron to Kennedy.
Though the word “transphobia” is mentioned, it is unclear whether it is connected with trans youth since the caption only refers to gay youth and in the body this is replaced with LGBTQ. Kennedy states what, in 2008, is now accepted orthodoxy, transgender and transsexual people, like LGB people, have recognized human rights.
In the backrounder the survey is called “Egale Canada First National Survey on Homophobia in Canadian Schools.” In it LGBTQ clearly refers only to sexual orientation and gay youth―as if the only thing of concern to Lesbian Gay Bisexual Trans and Queer youth is their sexual orientation and homophobia.
This seems to fulfill the call of Laurie Arron to “move beyond law reform” to “changing hearts and minds;” leaving behind trans people and gender identity and gender expression and built upon Munter’s declaration of the end of the struggle for the recognition of human rights in Canada.
On June 26, 2008, a Canadian Press story captioned “Gay teens coming out of the closet: it’s talked about more, but still difficult” was released.
In the body of the story LGBTQ is again used to discuss the challenge of coming out for gay youth, being bullied because of their sexual orientation and despite “more gays and lesbians. . . .depicted in mainstream media, and annual gay pride events. . . . more popular than ever” these problems remain.
The Egale Canada study was again referred to and again the clear impression of the piece is the only issue facing Lesbian Gay Bisexual Trans and Queer (LGBTQ) youth concerns their sexual orientation.
Transgender and transsexual youth, and the adults we grow up to be, have been completely erased from the diversity of Canada―the discrimination we endure is magnified by this erasure.
The Mandate of Egale Canada, the first page when their website is accessed, has included “trans-identified” people for a number of years.
Again, this was accomplished through a Bylaw amendment process. Again, I had assumed that such a process constituted an appropriate discussion for determining involvement in “trans issues.”
Helen Kennedy’s Private Speech
In June, 2008, Helen Kennedy was scheduled to give a keystone address to the conference of the Canadian Professional Association for Transgender Health entitled, “Transgender Issues Across Canada.”
Yet, Egale Canada had abandoned its 2005 policy as well as long history when it abandoned Ottawa in 2007–without any apparent discussion, as when it became involved in “trans issues”–so it is distasteful a representative of such an organization would be invited, let alone speak on such a theme.
Kennedy seems never to have said anything for public consumption about transsexual and transgender people–not even in a press release on Egale Canada’s own website about a school survey that is ostensibly as much about trans youth as it is about gay youth–from an organization that has had several discussions about involving itself in “trans issues,”.culminating in “promises.”
This is part of a trend whose culmination is well illustrated by Capital Xtra and Gareth Kirkby–as discussed below.
Yet Egale Canada wasn’t always this way–nor need it be now.
Under former Executive Director John Fisher (1994 to 2002) Egale Canada, or EGALE–Equality for Gays and Lesbians Everywhere, as it was then known–lobbied the British Columbia Legislature to amend its Human Rights Code to include gender identity in 1998, the Canadian Human Rights Act Review Panel to include gender identity in 1999 and North West Territories legislature to include gender identity in its human rights law in 2002.
The British Columbia legislature amended its Human Rights law to include gender identity but the then NDP government did not proclaim it. The Review Panel recommended amending the Human Rights Act to include gender identity; no action has been taken on any of its recommendations. Egale Canada is widely credited with persuading North West Territories to amend its Human Rights Law to include gender identity; it was proclaimed.
In the federal election of 2004 the federal NDP explicitly referred to the amendment of North West Territories’ Human Rights Law as a foundation for an election plank to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act.
The campaigns Egale Canada is now associated with are Stop Murder Music and make Canadian schools safe for gay youth.
Capturing the Public’s Imagination
Abandoning the struggle for human rights in Canada might well be a reason the gay political movement has fallen on hard times since the passage of the Civil Marriage Law.
Once, the movement fired the imagination of the public by explicitly identifying the recognition of the human rights of gay and lesbian people in the ongoing historic struggle for equality and dignity for all. Now, as Gareth Kirkby’s and Marcus McCann’s recent columns in Capital Xtra―discussed in my previous commentary―and the misleading and incorrect statements of Egale Canada and Ottawa Pride demonstrate, the goal of gay and lesbian organizations have moved on.
The people of Canada respond to calls for equality, not for special interests.
The term “equal marriage,” not gay marriage or same-sex marriage, shows the genius of a previous generation of gay activists. Now, Capital Pride, Egale Canada and Capital Xtra, become irrelevant to gay and lesbian people, measured by vanishing funds, interest and respect―even as they are destructive to transsexual and transgender people.
Their response is to attempt to move the focus off shore.
Moving Forward to Freedom
The Ottawa Pride website for 2008 states that at the Queer Town Hall
(Update, August 1: It appears this note has now been removed from the Pride website.)
Unchallenged, except by “a profoundly tenacious local activist” and a few online posters/dissenters, the gay political orthodoxy that has become the basis of the work of Ottawa Pride, Egale Canada and Capital Xtra can be summed up as follows:
- All LGBT people in Canada have recognized human rights; “there are no second-class Canadians, lesbian, gay, bi and trans people are full members of the community, without caveat or exceptions.”
- It is time to “move beyond legal reform” in Canada for LGBT people; its time “to face the challenge of changing hearts and minds.”
- There is no more litigation or legislation to be done in Canada―no more rights to be recognized―so it is time to fight discrimination of LGBT people in other countries.
- Gay and lesbian people have nothing to gain from or contribute to “trans issues.” There must be discussions if they are to contribute.
This “orthodoxy” is demonstrably incorrect and untrue.
Those who assert otherwise or avoid the point entirely―Alex Munter, Laurie Arron, Helen Kennedy, Gareth Kirkby and Marcus McCann―know this.
It is unclear whether LGBT or LGBTQ, as used by these organizations and these leaders, actually include transsexual and transgender people; the context of their statements not only suggests otherwise; their statements exclude focus on gender identity/gender expression in favour of sexual orientation only.
This orthodoxy renders the lives and struggles of transgender and transsexual people quite invisible; it erases us. In a previous commentary I have used the term “invisibilize.”
Not only transsexual and transgender people are affected.
There are many gender variant people who are gay or lesbian, and straight, who are not protected under current legislation–though I clearly remember Laurie Arron say the gender expression of gay and lesbian people is protected under sexual orientation. Gender oppression is not addressed by this ‘orthodoxy’ nor will it if we simply move “beyond law reform” and focus offshore.
This ‘orthodoxy’ is also something extra those who are committed to dignity and equality for all must get through before even arriving at the starting place. Kirkby’s column is an example of what dissenters from orthodoxy endure–and it clearly encourages reluctance on the part of those who would otherwise be active supporters of the ongoing struggle for human rights–both formal and substantial.
What is it?
In recent weeks a question has much preoccupied me. I have asked people around me and now I ask you.
When you say something you know isn’t true, what is it?
And when you know it isn’t true and you know it causes great pain to those more marginal than you―because their voices are simply unheard in your discussions―when you say it, what is it?
And when you know these statements plant you squarely between them and their path to the mainstream, what is it?
And for those organizations that include those more marginalized in their Mandates and have made explicit promises―i. e. policy commitments―abandoned in establishing this political orthodoxy, what is it?
Capital Xtra, and its parent, Pink Triangle Press, have never included transgender or transsexual people in their Mandate.
It has certainly covered trans events―including those I have contributed to. But it has not included trans people in its coverage of everyday life in Ottawa. It does not include transsexual and transgender people in what it calls in print “The Gay Village” which in person Gareth Kirkby will acknowledge is for all LGBT people.
Nor will Capital Xtra describe agencies that serve the entire GLBTTQ community correctly―Pink Triangle Services, the gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, two spirit and queer social services agency in Ottawa, is described as a gay and lesbian social services agency in print.
Recently, a meeting of Around the Rainbow, a project of Family Services Ottawa serving children of GLBTTQ families, was surprised to note a quote from its Project Director describing its mandate substituted “to come from a gay family” for “to come from a GLBTTQ family.”
And it has made universal statements erasing the void in Canadian human rights legislation.
Regardless, this plants Capital Xtra between transgender and transsexual people and our path to the mainstream.
How can the lives of transsexual and transgender people become part of everyday understanding when we are excluded from everyday coverage and comment where we are actually, factually, present?
There is a trend in all three of these organizations to recognize, in various private settings, the status of transsexual and transgender people, but not in public. Regardless of their Mandates and policy promises, where they exist, and our simple factual existence even for those that do not, they all do not recognize our second class status in Canada–the void in human rights and hate crime law.
And the marginalization resulting from our not being included in everyday coverage and commentary. Maybe there is a fear this marginalization will transfer?
So, where is the moral authority for these organizations and their leaders to speak to other countries when their foundation at home is built on a void?
These organizations―Egale Canada, Ottawa Pride and Capital Xtra―will converge in their ‘orthodoxy’ at Ottawa Pride’s 2008 Queer Town Hall and Human Rights Monument ceremony on August 19 starting at 7 pm.
This may be one of the few times when all three organizations will be represented at the same place and at the same time. It will be a rare opportunity to raise concerns about their erasure of transsexual and transgender people, to state the truth about the void in Canada’s human rights and hate crime laws and to recognize the marginalization of transgender and transsexual people.
This may be the only time to make the void visible.
The future of the struggle for the dignity and equality for all in Canada―I believe this is still necessary and noble―will focus not on the protagonists of its past. Gay and lesbian people may have to take the same seat transsexual and transgender people have been in for some time, though this will no more mean there is nothing in the future for gay and lesbian people than there was nothing in the past for transgender and transsexual people.
Opening the realm of freedom by explicitly recognizing the fundamental human rights of transgender and transsexual people will move freedom forward for all as the movement for gay and lesbian rights once did.
This is the present historical moment.
It is Time for Amends
Gareth Kirkby of Capital Xtra, and others, have called for trans people to organize for themselves, by themselves, as they claim gay and lesbian people have done.
And even if this were true, gay and lesbian people did not have a community and its organizations that, while nominally including them, created a political orthodoxy that did damage to their lives and struggles and stood in the way of the very same things gay and lesbian people yearned for.
There is much needed to move forward, both for transsexual and transgender people and for the organizations that have freely brought us into their mandates and policy promises before we can say with Munter “there are no second-class Canadians, lesbian, gay, bi and trans people are full members of the community, without caveat or exceptions.”
It is time for Egale Canada and Ottawa Pride to make amends to transsexual and transgender people.