Archive | May, 2016

Today was a big deal

17 May
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Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould and 10 year-old Charlie

I cried in the halls of Parliament today. It wasn’t the first time. But luckily in both cases, they were tears of joy.

The first time my face leaked on Parliament Hill was in 2005, when we packed the visitors’ gallery to hear the government pass equal marriage legislation. I was only 26 at the time, cynical about the institution of marriage, and unsure about whether or not the new law would ever have an impact on my life. But being surrounded by queer activists who had fought for 30 years to reach that momentous day – it had an impact on me. We don’t get a lot of victories, and that was a big one.

Shortly after gay marriage became the law of the land, we entered the dark Harper years. I was on the board of Egale Canada when the government cut the Court Challenges program – a funding source that had been crucial to securing legal victories for the gay community in the 80s and 90s.

Trans advocates were understandably dismayed. They pointed out that human rights laws did not specifically include gender identity or gender expression, leaving trans people unprotected in a lot of sectors. And as all of the big-money gay donations dried up after the marriage fight, there was no money left for trans folks to fight their case in court.

Progressive wilderness

As progressive voices raged in the wilderness of a conservative majority government, NDP MPs Bill Siksay and Randall Garrison attempted to enshrine trans rights in the law seven times. In two cases, the bills passed third reading in the House of Commons. But neither bill made it through the Senate.

The last attempt was particularly enraging, because retrograde Senator Donald Plett took it upon himself to foment fear about trans people and bathrooms. Yes, the exact same rhetoric that was recently used to pass discriminatory legislation in North Carolina. (The very same law that the US Department of Justice is now fighting — THANKS OBAMA).

I take this issue personally, as a friend, lover and family member to trans people. Everyone deserves explicit human rights protection under the law. But trans people face very specific barriers to employment, health care and housing. Explicit legal recognition is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to tackling these issues, but it is still a crucial piece of the puzzle.

Nerd party on the Hill

It felt like a family reunion on the Hill today, as the government announced it would be adding both gender identity and gender expression to the Canadian Human Rights Act and federal hate crimes laws.

I saw many activists and former colleagues who have been at this fight for decades. But what struck me most were the kids. Trans children as young as 10, including the incredible Charlie Lowthian Rickert. Seeing their eyes brim with proud tears and their chests puff up with pride, was one of the most beautiful moments I have ever witnessed.

Charlie is a kick-ass fighter already. When only nine years old, she and her mom visited Senator Plett, and told him directly how his fear-mongering was making life unsafe for trans kids like her. And just this week, she addressed Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould in a meeting of trans advocates, and explained why this bill was so crucial to her.

Today Charlie took centre stage with the Justice Minister, and told a packed room full of reporters why this law matters:

I know that the law won’t change the daily reality of bullying, but it may stop those heartless bullies who can’t accept who I am from doing more than just calling me names.

There is so much more work to be done to improve the lives of trans people in Canada. Access to health care and housing are key. And the decriminalization of sex work would help stop the cycle of criminalization that often targets trans women. All of this is important and requires our urgent attention.

But the fight on this bill is far from over. It is very likely to pass through the House of Commons, but it could get held up in the Senate again. And we are about to encounter one helluva backlash.

But today? Today is a good day.

hill selfie

Awkward Hill selfie with two amazing trans advocates.

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