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opinion

This article was originally published in May, 2017

Sophia Banks is a transgender photographer living in Montreal

Trans rights are once again being debated in the Canadian Senate. A year ago, private member's Bill C-279, which fought against hate crimes toward trans people, ultimately failed after the committee accepted amendments which limited how effective it could be. This year, it is Bill C-16. The main focus of these bills is to enshrine trans rights and protections into the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code. Many provinces have adopted policies protecting trans people, ensuring their rights and protections but, to date, there is no federal policy in Canada regarding trans people.

This means federal agencies, such as airlines and prisons, can often legally discriminate against trans people, and that a violent attack on trans people will never be seen as a hate crime under the Canadian Criminal Code.

As a trans woman, I listen to the debate in the Senate with a great deal of frustration. Some say we are not women, that giving us rights to use a women's washroom will result in dangerous situations for cis girls and women.

Conservative Senator Don Plett questioned last week what the difference between gender identity and gender expression is. A senator, debating and trying to block the rights of thousands of trans people, has not grasped a basic understanding of trans people or what gender is.

Ultimately, a bill designed to protect trans Canadians from discrimination in the workplace, in health care, etc., is being twisted and spun as if we are make-belief monsters and a menace.

Gender identity is simply one's gender. What gender do you identify with? It's not so much a choice in identity, it's simply saying, for example, I am a trans woman, I am a woman. Or for non-binary people, their gender is non-binary and they will often use pronouns they and them. It's protecting the simple right to self-identify our gender.

This is 2017, and yet I still need to explain this: Gender is not something we can really know or assume by looking at a person. How one expresses themselves outwardly is not an indication of gender. How one physically looks is also not a great indicator of gender. The gender often assumed when we see people is based around cis ideals of what people look like, and also assumes only two binary genders exist. When do most people see a person and assume they are non-binary?

The importance of Bill C-16, that including protections for both gender identity and gender expression, is more than just the right for trans people to self-identify their gender. It's to ensure how we present our gender – no matter what that gender is – has protections from discrimination. For trans people, this means that we will not fear workplace discrimination for presenting and expressing our gender identity. That perhaps a person who wears a dress to work one week and a beard the next will not fear losing their job.

This bill would mean we're are free to not only identify our gender, but to express ourselves however we feel. What's more Canadian than that?

Eds note: An earlier version of this column incorrectly said that Bill C-16 would enshrine trans rights and protections into the Charter of Rights. In fact, Bill C-16 would amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code. Also, the original version contained a factual error: Senator Plett did not argue that trans people don't exist in the course of discussing the bill in the Senate.

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