The importance of Bill C-16 on Gender Identity: In conversation with violence against women advocate Dillon Black

On the eve of the final Senate committee hearings on Bill C-16 on Gender Identity, Amnesty’s women’s rights campaigner Jackie Hansen caught up with violence against women advocate and LGBTI social worker Dillon Black of the Ottawa Coalition to end Violence Against Women (OCTEVAW), to talk about the significance of Bill C-16 in promoting gender equality. Dillon sits on the Minister of the Status of Women to the Government of Canada’s Advisory Council to Help Shape the Federal Strategy on Gender-Based Violence.

Bill C-16, a proposed law to protect transgender individuals in Canada from hate crimes, is being debated in the Senate. If passed, the bill will add gender identity and gender expression to hate crimes sentencing provisions in the Canadian Criminal Code, providing transgender individuals with stronger protection from being deliberately targeted for acts of violence. The bill will also add gender identity and gender expression to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination under the Canadian Human Rights Act. Amnesty has long supported this proposed legislation, as one step to addressing the discrimination and violence disproportionately experienced by transgender individuals.

>> ACT NOW >> Call on Senators to support Bill C-16 on Gender Identity.

Dillon, why is it so important that Bill C-16 pass into law without delay?

In everyday life, trans, two-spirit and gender non-conforming people experience the effects of ongoing stigmatization and gender-based violence. Bill C-16 is a crucial effort to address the extraordinarily high rates of violence, discrimination and harassment experienced by trans and gender non-conforming people across the country, and to address the overwhelming institutional barriers experienced by these communities in terms of accessing meaningful support services and resources. Bill C-16 is an important stepping stone towards promoting the safety and self-determination of trans and gender non-conforming people by capturing and making explicit their identities and experiences through the addition of “gender identity” and “gender expression” as grounds for protection within our human rights framework and policies.

As someone who identifies as gender non-conforming, what impact will Bill C-16 have on your life?

As a queer and trans survivor who doesn’t identify within the gender binary, it is always a challenge to see my experience and the experiences of my own community reflected or included in a meaningful way. LGBTQ+ communities, and trans, two-spirit and gender non-conforming people in particular, are some of the most marginalized populations in every community. From what I’ve seen on the ground, we face incredible marginalization and violence and there is an incredible lack of resources to access support. I’ve seen trans women denied life-saving services, housing and shelter; gender non-conforming people brutalized and targeted; trans people who have yet to access consensual gender-affirming surgery mis-gendered and housed within the wrong facilities where they face more danger; and our trans youth make up some of the highest rates of our youth experiencing homelessness population due to family and peer rejection. Moreover, when trans, two-spirit and gender non-conforming people do experience violence and gender-based targeting they are less likely to report to police and seek medical attention. Within the violence against women sector we know that these populations are under resourced and that their experiences are less likely to be validated and believed, and moreover safety planning for LGBTQ+ communities is much more complicated because of pervasive stigma, risk, and lack of appropriate services.

Prior to the introduction of Bill C-16, gender identity and gender expression has not been explicitly protected, and this legislation will not only benefit trans and gender non-conforming people—but all people—because we ALL have a gender identity and expression.

As someone who uses the pronouns they/them, can you share with us the importance of having people use your “preferred” pronoun?

Well first things first, if we all have a gender this means we also all have a pronoun! Not just a preferred one—a real one! Whether that is he, she or they, or any other pronoun, we all deserve to have our gender identity and expression respected and believed. Currently, our world is administratively structured on the outdated idea that there exist only “two sexes”! But, gender and sex are two different things and there are so many ways of expressing and being. We need our governments, institutions, policies and practices to reflect these changes. Imagine, every single day not being called by your name and your pronoun. Imagine the impact that might have on you to be constantly mis-gendered, or misunderstood, and devalued because of it. It’s so easy to respect people’s gender and pronouns, and it really goes a long way in terms of building more safe, equitable and supportive communities.

How have you addressed concerns raised by those who are concerned that not using a person’s pronoun could be considered hate speech?

Respecting someone’s pronouns isn’t about “not offending” or “free speech,” it really is about validating and recognizing people’s identities and needs in order for us to thrive and be our whole selves. Let’s talk about what free speech really means: the ability for every person of every gender, sexuality, race/ethnicity, class and ability to participate meaningfully and safely in all spaces.

And, for those grammar police, singular “they” has even become recognized in the Oxford dictionary and has been used for hundreds of years. Just because some people don’t understand your gender does not mean it isn’t valid.

Why has it been so important for the feminist community and organizations such as OCTEVAW to support this legislation?

I think the best answer to this question would be for folks to check out the statement in support of Bill C-16 from the Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres, OCTEVAW, the Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses, the Office of Sexual Violence Support and Education, Ryerson University and Women’s Health in Women’s Hands. 

What’s next?

Bill C-16 is just the beginning of a larger conversation and push towards building safer and more equitable communities for all survivors of violence by centering those at highest risk. More importantly, this conversation is really about adding more complexity and nuance to conversations surrounding violence against women and gender-based violence. It’s really about building bridges across difference. We want to understand the ways in which marginalized genders are impacted by systems of violence, by centering women, LGBTQI+ folks, and other marginalized communities.

Violence against women shelters and rape crisis centres are under-resourced and need support to develop more inclusive and meaningful services for trans, two-spirit and gender non-conforming people, because there are so few places to go when these communities experience violence.

>> ACT NOW >> Call on Senators to support Bill C-16 on Gender Identity.

Follow OCTEVAW on Twitter @OCTEVAW.