Marie Little, chair of the Trans Alliance Society, is urging declared and prospective B.C. Liberal and NDP leadership contenders to commit to changing the law in order to prohibit discrimination on basis of gender identity and gender expression.
Little told the Georgia Straight that transgender people are often forced out of their jobs and rental housing by transphobic employers and landlords.
“We need basically to make it illegal to discriminate against us,” the transgender-rights activist said by phone from her Vancouver home.
Little noted that transgender people even face prejudice in the health-care system.
“We’ve had members who’ve had to change doctors when they came out of the closest, because their doctor didn’t want to see them anymore,” Little said. “That would stop or at least be limited if we got it in the Human Rights Code.”
The B.C. Human Rights Code makes it illegal to discriminate based on age, disability, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, and other grounds.
In 2008, the Trans Alliance Society spearheaded a petition that called on MLAs to amend the Human Rights Code to also prohibit discrimination based on gender identity and gender expression.
Shane Simpson, the NDP MLA for Vancouver-Hastings, introduced the petition, signed by 740 people, in the legislature in 2009.
(At the federal level, Bill Siksay, the NDP MP for Burnaby-Douglas, has a private member’s bill before the House of Commons that would add gender identity and gender expression to the Canadian Human Rights Act’s list of prohibited grounds of discrimination. Bill C-389 is expected to go to third reading in March.)
George Abbott, one of six candidates for the B.C. Liberal leadership, told the Straight that he believes transgender people deserve “all of the human rights” enjoyed by other Canadians.
Speaking by phone, the Shuswap MLA noted he’s familiar with some of the issues faced by transgender people because of the four years he served as the province’s health minister.
However, Abbott said he wasn’t prepared to make a commitment to add gender identity and gender expression to the Human Rights Code.
“In terms of the detail, about adding it to the British Columbia Human Rights Code, I think I’d want to ensure that I understood all the nuances and all the implications that might flow from such a formal amendment to the Human Rights Code,” Abbott said. “But, in principle, I certainly would want to ensure that all people, regardless of their sexual identity or whether they are transgender or otherwise, enjoy the respect that other human beings should expect and receive.”
Little also said she’s concerned about the lack of transgender health services in other parts of B.C.
She noted that transgender people from across the province depend on the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority’s Transgender Health Program to help them access the services of physicians, psychologists, endocrinologists, and other health practitioners.
The program was established after budget cuts by the B.C. Liberal government led to the closure of Vancouver General Hospital’s Gender Dysphoria Program in 2002.
According to Little, the Transgender Health Program’s funding hasn’t kept up with inflation since it was launched in 2003.
“The fact that it’s a provincewide program but is being run through Vancouver Coastal Health is a problem for people in the rest of the province,” Little said.
According to the Transgender Health Program’s website, 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. This umbrella term may include crossdressers, drag kings/queens, transsexuals, people who are androgynous, Two-Spirit people, and people who are bi-gendered or multi-gendered, as well as people who do not identify with any labels.”
Little acknowledged that transgender people constitute a small minority of the population.
But she said she would like to see transgender rights be one of the issues discussed in the next provincial election.
“We don’t swing a big voters’ club,” Little said. “But I think, in Vancouver at least, we have allies and sympathizers. Most of the unions that I’ve been contact with have been pretty supportive, and they have members. We do have allies, and we would certainly give support to people—politicians—who in turn supported us.”
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