By Sussanne Skidmore and Hermender Singh Kailley
This year has seen incident after incident of transphobic hate and violence.
Hate-motivated stabbings at a gender issues class at the University of Waterloo. Intimidation outside drag queen story hours. Pride flags stolen and burned. Rainbow sidewalks defaced with ugly slogans.
It’s clear that the campaign of hate against transgender people—against even the idea of transgender people—is growing in Canada, strengthened by what’s happening in the US and Britain. And many of the same organizations and individuals that have been pushing conspiracy theories and echoing alt-right talking points about trans people are now planning protests in communities across the country, scheduled for noon PST today, September 20.
Countering their message will be transgender people and others from the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, along with their many supporters—including organized labour.
One of the fundamental principles of the labour movement—as old, maybe, as organized labour itself—is this: an injury to one is an injury to all.
When it comes to equity, we haven’t always lived up to the full meaning of that principle, and too often we’ve followed rather than led. But in recent decades, the labour movement has recognized that we have a responsibility to lead both by action and by example. That includes ensuring our leadership, policies, and practices truly reflect the people we represent. It includes advocating for changes in laws and society that address the ideas and structures that underlie discrimination and injustice.
It also means not being deterred by voices telling us to stay in our lane and speak out only about workplace issues—as though workers’ lives are defined only by what goes on during their shift, and not by the social and political context they live in.
And it most certainly includes taking a stand when people are unjustly attacked for who they are.
Attacks are what these protests are about. Behind the benign-sounding slogans is a litany of fear-mongering claims and insinuations about trans people and gender-affirming health care, as well as trans kids themselves.
We saw that in action over the weekend, after posting our statement opposing the marches and expressing our solidarity with trans people. Our X feed was flooded both with vehement denials that these marches were in any way hateful, and attacks on transgender people as well as their supporters, including doctors who provide care.
The claim that these marches are all about children doesn’t stand up. These voices have been silent on far more pressing needs of children, including decent, affordable childcare; a well-funded public education system; living wages and higher income and disability assistance rates for parents; affordable housing for families; and action to ensure a livable world for future generations.
And, perhaps predictably, they show no concern for the mental health of the trans kids and teenagers harmed by their hateful portrayal of trans people. These organizations would erase gender diversity from schools, and go back to a time when a young trans (or even questioning) person would feel only shame, confusion, and loneliness.
This isn’t just a question of unpleasant or offensive words. As recent incidents of violence and harassment in BC and across Canada make painfully clear, hatred and fear have real-world consequences and cause real-world violence. Trans bodies and trans lives are on the line.
Everyone deserves to be who they are and to feel safe, valued, and supported at work, at school, or in their community. That’s why BC’s labour movement stands shoulder to shoulder in solidarity with trans workers and communities throughout our province and our country. It’s why we’re turning out today, and it’s why we’ll confront hate wherever it arises. An injury to one really is an injury to all.
Sussanne Skidmore is president of the BC Federation of Labour. Hermender Singh Kailley is secretary-treasurer of the BC Federation of Labour.