It’s 2011, and transgender people still aren’t explicitly protected under Canada’s human-rights laws. The Transrespect Versus Transphobia Worldwide project has compiled more than 600 reasons why this needs to change—now.
On May 17—the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia—the Transgender Europe-backed research project announced that it’s documented 604 murders of transgender people reported since January 2008. The project has put data about many of these homicides—such as the shooting death of New Jersey’s Victoria Carmen White in September 2010—on an interactive map on its website.
Brazil registers the largest number of killings of transgender people, at 247. The United States claims the second largest total, with 42 murders. Mexico and Venezuela each have 32 homicides. Many other countries on all continents, save for Antarctica, are home to reported killings.
The TVT project notes on its site: “Yet, we know, even these high numbers are only a fraction of the real figures; the truth is much worse. While in several Middle and South American countries forms of reporting and monitoring exist, in most African countries this is not the case, making it extremely difficult to gain knowledge of murdered trans people.”
It’s true—no reported murders of transgender people in Canada were documented by the project during this period. But that doesn’t mean transgender Canadians don’t need to be formally protected under our country’s human-rights laws.
These murders around the world only hint at the discrimination faced in Canada by many transgender people, who are often at risk of being wrongfully dismissed from their jobs, evicted from their homes, and run out of businesses by scared, hateful, and sometimes-violent transphobic people.
In the last Parliament, Bill Siksay, the now-retired NDP MP for Burnaby-Douglas, introduced legislation that would have added “gender identity” and “gender expression” to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination in the Canadian Human Rights Act. Bill C-389 passed third reading in the House of Commons by a vote of 143-135, but died in the Senate when the federal election was called.
On May 26, Spencer Chandra Herbert, the NDP MLA for Vancouver-West End, introduced Bill M 207, which seeks to amend B.C.’s Human Rights Code in order to ensure protection from discrimination on the basis of gender identity and gender expression.
Legislation like this is one step toward a society that embraces gender in all its diverse forms. Regrettably, there are politicians out there—including Prime Minister Stephen Harper—inclined to oppose transgender rights and equality whenever they get the opportunity.
These politicians would do well to consider the root causes of many of these over 600 murders before casting their votes. And whether they really want to see Canada’s statistic become more than a zero.
You can follow Stephen Hui on Twitter at twitter.com/stephenhui.