The human-rights, health and social challenges experienced by people with changed or changing gender identities stepped beyond the activism of a few to become mainstream policy debates of governments, schools and health institutions in 2015. Globe B.C. has spent the past week exploring the lives of three transgender people at different points along their paths.
The year 2015 is when ignoring trans voices became a political problem.
Today, only Nunavut, British Columbia, Quebec, New Brunswick and the federal government do not explicitly protect gender identity in law. Nevertheless, it is read into human-rights case law across the land under the protections afforded under sex designation.
Going further, gender expression (how we express our gender) is explicitly protected in Ontario, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Prince Edward Island. In Parliament, NDP MP Randall Garrison has already submitted private member's Bill C-204: An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and Criminal Code (gender identity and gender expression), replacing the string of defunct trans equality bills passed by Parliament since 2009: C-279 and Bill Siksay's C-389.
That Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has tasked the Minister of Justice with extending equal protection to trans persons offers significant promise that Canada will not experience a repeat of the previous government's cynically xenophobic behaviour in the Senate with Bill C-279.
After all, this is 2015.
Sadly, Canada continues to be locked into a binary interpretation of gender into which sex is conflated.
We classify persons as male or female, rather than recognizing that gender identity and sex both fall on a spectrum and are not interchangeable terms.
Together, trans and intersex persons account for 775,000 Canadians (0.5 per cent are trans, 2 per cent are intersex) for whom sex characterization on official documents is wrong at one time or another in their lives. Many of these persons cannot truthfully answer if they are M or F on a document due to subtleties. The gender binary enforced by our identity documents today in Canada affects enough Canadians to justify a closer look.
This past summer, Vancouver Pride Society's Trans Equality Now pledge sent a clear message that discrimination against transgender persons was discrimination against someone in their community. At a time when increasingly corporate Pride events are focusing on positive messages, equality politics have taken a back seat to fabulous glitter-filled parties, and unending buzzkill coming from trans activists has tended to get trans rights thrown under the party bus.
In Vancouver, however, failing to sign the mandatory Trans Equality Now pledge resulted in the ejection of major organizations from the parade, with associated loss of the much-desired LGBT-friendly photo-op that this event afforded. With this one simple stand, discriminating against trans people carried the risk of being seen as a fraud because it gave hypocrisy a paper trail.
Quebec now allows self-determination of gender identity and removes surgical requirements. In early October, it became the first province where a transgender person need not ask permission from a medical practitioner to confirm their identity. Anyone born in Quebec now need only produce an affidavit from someone attesting that they have been living as the selected gender for at least a year. This is a monumental step in Canada because it is the first time that a province has acknowledged that only a trans person knows who they are. Transgender persons are not asking to be recognized as themselves by gatekeepers with lofty degrees, and the other provinces should follow Quebec's lead if they have the chance.
Sadly, New Brunswick, PEI and the Northwest Territories still compel trans persons to produce proof of transsexual surgery from a doctor, effectively a testament that the aesthetic qualities of trans genitals meet the aesthetic standards of the community. A trans person might wonder how many cisgender (not transgender) persons have had to do this to get their driver's licence or birth certificate.
Falling from self-proclaimed grace, the children and youth Gender Identity Clinic at Toronto's Centre for Addiction and Mental Health is shutting down. After years of outcry from transgender persons who have gone through the system as children, the clinic finally succumbed to new legal pressures and is winding down its operations after an external review found its approach – which includes conversion therapy – to be "out of step with accepted clinical practice."
Meanwhile, Kael McKenzie, a Manitoba Crown attorney, has been appointed Canada's first transgender judge. Every equity-seeking population in Canada knows that marginalization is starkly reduced when members of the affected community gain power and voice. The trans community needs resonating voices to counter arguments against the validity of our experiences. Having a transgender person appointed to the bench is an overdue development in that direction, and we need to see further proportional representation of our existence throughout society.
We are still a long way from this, but as we become more accepted in Canadian society, trans persons are coming out of hiding and contributing to the conversation – much to the benefit of trans youth, who are beginning to see highly effective role models. With trans judges, lawyers, engineers, teachers, moms, accountants, doctors, innovators and other leaders, we are slowly stitching together a social network to support us and help us weather the difficulties that being trans adds to our lives.
It's getting better, but we are not yet equal. Trans equality has come so far since the 1990s, when trans women still had to "prove" femininity to psychiatrists by performing the role of an oversexed parody. Nevertheless, members of the trans community still struggle to be heard as credible persons. Gender identity is something Canadians are starting to understand, and the growth of support for trans equality over the last year is striking. I'm looking forward to having equal protection under the law.
Morgane Oger advocates for policy changes that will normalize and protect trans identities in Canada. She is the chair of the Trans Alliance Society, secretary of the School District 39 District Parent Advisory Council, member of the City of Vancouver LGBTQ2+ Advisory Committee and a member of the B.C. NDP provincial executive.