Transgender rights still unenshrined
Should gender identity and gender expression be prohibited grounds for discrimination?
Chair, Trans Alliance Society
“Discrimination is not so overt”¦but we all have experienced”¦that look like, ”˜Yeah, like we’re going to rent to you; yeah, we’re going to give you the job; yeah, that’s not going to happen.’ It’s very subtle. It’s difficult to really put it in words unless you experienced that discrimination. It is very important that we educate people that there still is a section of the population that’s discriminated against.”
President, REAL Women of Canada
“I would disagree with putting those two terms into any legislation, provincially or federally, because they are undefined. As human beings living in British Columbia”¦they all have the rights of every Canadian citizen. It’s not necessary for them to be trying to enshrine special privileges by using the human rights act. The last time I looked, there were 19 definitions of gender. Which of the 19 are they talking about?”
Vancouver park board commissioner
“I think it’s about time. Transsexual, transgendered, gender-variant people face huge amounts of discrimination. It’s something many people know little about. The education hasn’t been done. I know some human-rights cases have been supportive of trans people but”¦if we want to make sure everybody understands who we want to support, this is necessary. It’s not a matter of moral values. It’s just a matter of looking at human dignity.”
Vancouver city councillor
“Transgendered people are now the most oppressed group, and they do not have rights under the law. This is the big one last bastion of intolerance. I’m hopeful that the time has come now”¦to push ahead with transgender rights, but I think this will be a difficult and uphill battle for them. I’m not sanguine that they’ll be able to move this [B.C. Liberal] administration—they have not shown themselves to be particularly concerned about these issues.”
Raigen D’Angelo recalls playing a low-key role in the transgender-rights movement as a sex-trade worker during the 1990s.
“I did not want my clients to know about me, and if you look at the picture of me on the wall right there,” D’Angelo said in her East Vancouver home, pointing to a framed photo of a sultry-looking woman. “I would probably have been beaten royally by clients if they knew what I was, and I didn’t want my picture on every newspaper as a transwoman.”
More than a decade ago, advocates like Sandra LaFramboise waged a similar campaign to enshrine transgender rights. According to LaFramboise, a former nurse, they even came close to winning a landmark victory during the NDP government of then-premier Glen Clark.
LaFramboise told the Straight that while the B.C. Human Rights Code prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex and sexual orientation, it doesn’t protect transgender people.
According to the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority, the term transgender “refers to a person with a gender identity that is different from their birth sex or who expresses their gender in ways that contravene societal expectations of the range of possibilities for men and women”. Its Web site notes that this term may include cross-dressers, drag kings and queens, transsexuals, androgynous people, two-spirit people, those who are bigender or multigender, and those who do not identify with a particular label.
“I present myself as a female, but I like to wear pants, I like to wear short hair, I like to wear men’s shoes, men’s T-shirts,” LaFramboise said. “So the person says, ”˜You’re not feminine enough,’ and discriminates against me and doesn’t give me a job. Has he discriminated based on my sex? No. Has he discriminated against me based on my identity? Right!”
A founding member of the now-defunct transgender advocacy group High Risk Project Society, LaFramboise also noted that sexual orientation shouldn’t be confused with gender identity or gender expression. She said that sexual orientation simply indicates sexual preference—whether someone is heterosexual, gay, or lesbian, or a transgender person attracted to another transgender person.
LaFramboise is a two-spirit Métis woman and chief of the New Westminster–based Dancing to Eagle Spirit Society, which supports aboriginal as well as nonaboriginal transgender people. She recalled that a bill to protect gender identity and gender expression was introduced in the legislature in the late 1990s. But, according to LaFramboise, the legislation wasn’t successful and the issue was overtaken by controversies that hounded the Clark government and the provincial election that followed.
“If there’s something I regret, that was not being able to put it [the bill] through legislation,” former Vancouver-Burrard NDP MLA Tim Stevenson told the Straight. Now a two-term Vancouver city councillor, Stevenson worked closely with LaFramboise and other transgender-rights advocates on amending the Human Rights Code. “The government was distracted by other things,” he said.
Psychologist Christopher Shelley details the numerous challenges facing transgender people in his new book Transpeople: Repudiation, Trauma, Healing (University of Toronto Press, $29.95), ranging from accessing health care to “self oppression”.
“Transpeople are among the most subjugated and marginalized of social groups,” Shelley, a clinical director of the Adlerian Psychology Association of B.C., writes in the book. What he found most surprising is that transgender people face rejection from across the political spectrum, from conservatives, liberals, and radical feminists to lesbians and gay men.
Shelley, a lecturer on gender relations at UBC, notes that “trans repudiation”¦requires the solidarity of others to eradicate it.”
“Transpeople have something profound to teach us, yet unless we take down our defences we may not hear them and hence miss something that would benefit our own self-understanding,” he writes.
Transgender people face daily challenges
> Many live in poverty and have difficulty paying for the daily costs of living and health care.
> A survey of transgender people and loved ones in B.C. found that 31 percent reported income from social assistance, a nongovernment pension, or long- term disability funds.
> Fifteen percent reported needing housing services, 22 percent having needed housing services in the past, and 25 percent anticipating they would need housing assistance in the future.
> Forty-nine percent reported needing employment services in the past, currently needing services, or anticipating a future need.
> Twenty-six percent reported needing antiviolence services at some point.
> The needs of transgender parents are often not recognized, as it is assumed that transgender people do not have children.
> Transgender people with cognitive or mental-health issues are highly vulnerable to social isolation, abuse, and violence.
Source: Social and Medical Advocacy With Transgender People and Loved Ones: Recommendations for B.C. Clinicians, by Catherine White Holman and Joshua Mira Goldberg, January 2006