Transgender rights legislation: today Canada recognized that my rights matter too

By Alexander Kennedy, LGBTI Coordinator

In June 2005, I sat in the gallery of the House of Commons the night the Civil Marriage Act was passed. It was a moment of joy, the culmination of years of work by LGBTI activists, and yet in the midst of the celebrations I found myself wondering when trans people would get our moment, the recognition that our rights matter too.

This morning, more than a decade later, I sat in the gallery of the House of Commons as the Minister of Justice introduced Bill C-16 to extend human rights protections to trans people in Canada, surrounded by some of the many trans activists who have worked long and hard to make this day a reality.

A lot has happened in 11 years. Since 2005, legislation protecting trans rights has been introduced as a Private Member’s Bill seven times, only to be defeated each time. Ontario, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, Saskatchewan, and Alberta have joined the Northwest Territories in including protections for trans people in their provincial and territorial human rights codes. Trans people have experienced unprecedented visibility and awareness, here in Canada and around the world, but Bill C-16 comes at a time when the need for human rights protections is greater than ever.

The Trans Murder Monitoring project has reported 100 murders of trans and gender diverse people so far this year. Several US states have recently passed laws explicitly allowing – or requiring – discrimination against trans people, and several more have similar legislation pending. Earlier this month, one of the only clinics in Canada that performs gender confirmation surgery was the target of an arson attack.

Bill C-16 is an important step forward in ensuring that trans people are able to fully enjoy our rights and participate in Canadian society without fear of violence and discrimination. The addition of gender identity and gender expression to the prohibited grounds of discrimination in the Canadian Human Rights Act will require amendments to other laws and policies that unfairly impact trans people, from getting ID that reflects our identities, to being counted in the census, to the way that we are treated in prisons. The changes to the Criminal Code hate crimes sentencing provisions will also improve our ability to track, respond to, and work to prevent violence against trans people.

Today, I am thinking of those trans people who didn’t live to see this day. I am thinking of the most vulnerable members of our communities, determined that our continued activism should have the biggest impact on those who need it most. And I am thinking of the next generation of trans youth, who I hope will never have to wonder if their rights matter.

There is still a lot of work ahead of us, but today is a cause for celebration.

Learn more about Amnesty International Canada’s LGBTI rights work. | |