The horrific events in Orlando have brought issues of hate and intolerance, and their consequences, into focus again.
While Orlando may seem far away, the need to examine intolerance in our own communities is urgent. As we have seen in Orlando, when people are exposed to long-term intolerance and hate, consequences can reach an unspeakable scale.
Of course, as a part of the LGBT community, I am grateful for the very kind words of B.C. Premier Christy Clark in the aftermath of Orlando, affirming the barbarity of the violence that struck my community. Nonetheless, words are words and actions are actions. Expressing sadness and empathy is nice, but helping to prevent sorrow and injustice is much more powerful. Photo-ops feel good, but actual votes are what we need from our lawmakers.
As a member of the transgender community, I am ecstatic to have finally attained equal protection of gender identity or expression through their addition to the B.C. Human Rights Code earlier this week.
I am, however, fully conscious that this change took nearly 20 years after a recommendation from the B.C. Human Rights Commission, which itself was disbanded by the BC Liberals in 2001. This year, for the fourth time, the BC Liberal government didn't allow a vote on such a change when it was introduced by Spencer Chandra Herbert, NDP MLA for Vancouver-West End and a staunch ally to the transgender community. Instead, Attorney-General Suzanne Anton called the request unnecessary and accused Mr. Chandra Herbert of misleading the transgender community into believing it was needed.
The issue kept the BC Liberals out of last year's Pride Parade, whose organizers required participants to sign a pledge committing to such a change. With the next election less than a year away, the Liberals appear to have finally realized that being excluded for a second time from the parade, which will also be attended by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and possibly federal Conservatives, as well as the pending addition of trans rights to federal legislation, might turn the issue into an endless train of vote-stealing bad press. As well, as I consider seeking the NDP candidacy in the battleground riding of Vancouver-False Creek, the Liberals could face a transgender candidate next year.
The BC Liberals now suddenly appear to care more about justice than the social conservativism present in some areas of the party. The government not only forced the bill through all three readings in the legislature in one day, but also summoned the province's LGBT advocates for a prized photo-op to give the Premier and Attorney-General a good backdrop for their new law. (I have used the term LGBT for brevity to mean everyone who is not both cisgender and heterosexual.)
However, by refusing to consider updated legislation for so long, the BC Liberals elected to leave the transgender community to fend for ourselves in spite of widespread discrimination, which is widely acknowledged even within caucus.
Once the government elected to proceed with the change, the house voted unanimously in favour of the bill. A few members including the Premier missed the final vote, and one lone dissenting BC Liberal, Laurie Throness, gave a very polite speech in which he explained his deep desire to discriminate against some British Columbians while defiantly arguing for the religious "freedom" of universities to expel people who engage in gay sex. Even he wished my community "no ill will," while delivering a speech liberally sprinkled with profoundly transphobic and homophobic undertones. Mr. Throness abstained.
At the final vote for Bill 27 this past Monday, Ms. Clark, Shirley Bond, Marc Dalton, Linda Larson, Mike Morris, Mr. Throness, Pat Pimm and Dan Ashton either skipped the vote or abstained. Mr. Throness explained himself and Ms. Clark's office blamed her absence on a poorly scheduled party political fundraiser. The others remain silent. That's 17 per cent of caucus.
Why did this change take so long? Is it because a powerful minority of caucus answers to an intolerant, deeply socially conservative mindset? Members of the BC Liberal caucus have shown their own harmful intolerance on these issues in the past. Mr. Throness described trans people as not being natural in 2014. He was not publicly challenged by the Premier and he kept his job. The Premier has also not publicly disavowed the comments of MLA Marc Dalton, who in 2009 compared homosexuality to pedophilia, pornography and abortion and, in 2011, used time in the legislature to promote a church whose leader believes homosexuality can be cured. Along with Simon Gibson, Marvin Hunt and Laurie Throness, Marc Dalton voted against allowing self-identification of gender identity in 2014.
Ms. Clark has also been crucial to the rise of MLA Peter Fassbender, who has been a prominent member and organizer for the Promise Keepers – a U.S.-based organization widely denounced for demonizing members of the LGBT community and whose founder has called gay men "an abomination." Again, the Premier has not asked for a public accounting from Mr. Fassbender.
As we gear up for Vancouver Pride 2016 with the Orlando massacre fresh on our minds and weighing heavily on our hearts, I challenge the Premier to show leadership and act to protect LGBT people in British Columbia.
Now that the Premier has been compelled to extend equal protection under the law to my community – through gritted teeth – will she finally show that she has not become a hostage of the forces of intolerance in her caucus and clean house? It's 2016.
Morgane Oger is a long-time activist for the trans community and in education who sits on the executive committee of the B.C. NDP, chairs the Trans Alliance Society, chairs the Vancouver Board of Education's District Parent Advisory Council, and serves on a number of committees including the Vancouver School Board's pride committee and the City of Vancouver's LGBTQ2+ advisory committee. Follow her on Twitter at @rohemoog