March 25, 2013

IconCanadian Parliament Approves Transgender Rights Bill

On the 20th March 2013, by a vote of 149-137 the Canadian House of Commons approved a bill making it illegal to discriminate against people who are transgendered.  The Conservative Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, who has very openly opposed rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people, unsurprisingly voted against this bill as did most of his party.  However, eighteen Conservative MPs voted in favour of the bill, a crucial number to support the bill’s approval.

Some members weren’t happy with the wording in the bill because of the included terms ‘gender expression’ and ‘gender identity’.  Randall Garrison, the New Democrat Party Minister of Parliament who introduced the bill, removed the term ‘gender expression’ by way of a compromise.

The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal were in support of the bill adding transgender identity to the federal anti-discrimination and anti-hate legislation saying it would promote acceptance and send a message about tolerance.

There were some MPs who debated that transgendered people were already protected under sex and disability but the explicit protection outlined in the bill completely eliminates the possibility of challenging the rights of transgendered people or leaving them vulnerable within a non-specific grey area.

‘Both sides of this debate should agree that equality and protection against harm are two fundamental values that all Canadians of any gender, any age, any background are entitled to.’          —Tory MP Michelle Rempel

This is a big thing and a small thing simultaneously.

It’s a big thing because this is a group of people who have been marginalized, ridiculed, attacked, misunderstood and left without any basic protections.  Without trying to sound glib, their position within mainstream society has been exclusive, relegating them as a kind of modern-day leper and forcing them into hiding where they exist on the outer extremities of the rest of the population.  This bill changes that reality for the thousands of Canadians who identify as transgendered as well as for the transgendered tourist population visiting Canada.

It’s a small thing because why have transgendered people NOT been protected under the law so far from the harassment and violence that they endure on a regular basis?  As human beings, they should always have been protected under human rights.  Having your basic human rights protected seems like such a small thing—to those who take it for granted.

In the UK a transgendered woman is treated like a social pariah while shopping for clothes on the High Street.  In the American state of Arizona a transgendered man uses the men’s toilet and sparks an outcry and public debate because of the gender on his birth certificate.  In Canada a transgendered woman is refused work at a rape crisis and support centre because she was born male and can’t possibly empathise with the women survivors (despite experiencing the very same gender-based violence).  In the UK a transgendered woman kills herself after a reporter chooses to publicly rip her life apart by way of an article in a daily paper just because he is uncomfortable with who she is.

Who gets to decide?  Who is the lucky person who decides how any single individual apart from themselves is permitted to exist within our society?  I haven’t been granted that permission from anybody of note.  I don’t know anybody in my own circle of family and friends who have been granted that permission.  Until I see a piece of paper with some kind of seal on it stating ‘This person has the right to impose his/her/their own values onto anyone and everyone they choose to and reduce their life to a state of misery just because they feel like it’ then I will maintain my stance that my life is not your business and your life is not my business.

If you are walking down the street wearing a paper bag and a fruit basket on your head, you must be comfortable doing so and I kind of admire you for feeling secure enough with who you are to pull off such an out-of-the-ordinary look.  Work it.  It looks good on you.  By the same token, if I choose to walk down the street wearing a pair of trousers and a t-shirt I would expect no different treatment because at the end of the day, underneath whatever we’re wearing, we are human beings and we have a right to feel safe and protected and free to be who we are.

2 Responses to Canadian Parliament Approves Transgender Rights Bill

  1. Sharon Mattick says:

    Very well written and dead on!

  2. Sewella says:

    As a genderqueer I am thankful for the governments recognition of those of us whose gender identity is not as simple as being female or male because we were born with a vagina or penis. Thank you for a wrll written and thoughtful article.

Mia Lane


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