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Today was a big deal

17 May
charlie.png

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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Think of the children

26 Feb
Pro-choice, always

Pro-choice, always

I started to claim the title of “Mama” before I even gave birth. Even though I am devotedly pro-choice, I did this strategically. Because I knew that the “concerned parent” moniker was powerful and that I needed to mobilize it for good, not evil. I attended a counter-demo to the March for Life when I was about eight months pregnant, holding a sign that said, “Mama for choice.” And when I was only a few weeks away from giving birth, I presented to a provincial committee studying Bill 13, which compelled all Ontario high schools to allow gay-straight alliances (including the Catholic board).

Because whether I like it or not, being a parent lends me some sort of credibility and authority to speak on issues that are relevant to children. And it gives me an opportunity to disrupt the bigots who use ridiculous “think of the children” logic to deny people’s human rights and promote discrimination.

Cheap tricks

The notion that children need to be protected from queer and trans people is an old trope. In the 1970s, Anita Bryant based an entire “Save Our Children” campaign on the idea that gay people could be hiding in schools and corrupting innocent kids. She played on the false association between homosexuality and pedophilia and built a national campaign against gay rights in the U.S. based on it. While this seems like a total anachronism to many of us today, this same vein of manipulation is still alive and well. Two pieces of legislation are currently under debate that would have tremendous positive implications for queer/trans youth. But opponents are begging us to shut them down for the sake of “the children.”

In Ontario, the first comprehensive update to the health and sex education curriculum since 1998 was introduced last week. A similar update was first put on the table in 2010, but was quickly withdrawn after fundamentalist bigot Charles McVety raised a stink about it. The crux of his argument? You guessed it: that children’s innocence would be corrupted by frank discussions of sexuality.

He’s at it again with this latest curriculum. Before it was even released, McVety and his ilk were busy spreading rumours that the schools were planning to teach six year-olds the mechanics of anal sex (emphatically, not true). And now they are using the same argument as Bryant did in the 70s — arguing that parents, not schools, should be in charge of teaching kids about sex.

I am not going to get into the details of why the opposition to this curriculum is totally nonsensical, because I am going to trust that it’s obvious to you. But as a parent of a 2.5 year old, I gotta say it’s totally warped that anyone would oppose measures to teach kids about their own bodies and consent. These measures protect children much more effectively than willful blindness. And if you had any doubt any children’s capacity to understand these issues at a young age, watch this video that Staceyann Chin and her 3 year-old daughter Zuri made.

Luckily, our “lesbian activist Premier” (as she is being called by the right-wing chorus) has been fierce in her defense of the new curriculum and it’s sure to go through this time. But another crucial piece of legislation is sure to be quashed because of similar straw man arguments about “the children.”

Fear mongering

Just last night, an un-elected Canadian Senator took it upon himself to issue a death sentence to a piece of human rights legislation that has been in the works for years. Bill C-279 would amend the Canadian Human Rights Act to include “gender identity” as a grounds for protection. It has has been dubbed the “trans rights” bill and mirrors very similar legislation that is already in place in five Canadian provinces and territories. It was introduced in 2011 by NDP MP Randall Garrison and passed third reading in the House of Commons in 2013 — this included support from a handful of Conservative MPs, including Cabinet Ministers.

Then, the bill languished in the Senate. For years. As Justin Ling so adeptly pointed out in an article for Vice, this was clearly part of a strategy by the Harper government to sideline this bill and try to make it disappear. And then last night, Senator Donald Plett sentenced Bill C-279 to death. He brought forward an amendment that essentially reverses the intent of the bill and would effectively bar trans people from public bathrooms. If the Conservative-dominated Senate votes to adopt Plett’s amendment, the bill will get bounced back to the House of Commons and surely die before the next election is called.

What is the crux of Plett’s argument? You guessed it, THE CHILDREN. Specifically his young granddaughter, who he claims will be assaulted by “men” in bathrooms if trans people are afforded formal human rights protection under the law. I honestly cannot imagine what it would be like to be on the wrong side of history like this. To take it on one’s self to quash human rights legislation in the name of fear and gross misinformation. But as a queer mama, I gotta say:

  1. Trans people use bathrooms all the time. There have been ZERO reported cases in Canada of a trans person assaulting a child (or anyone else, really) in a bathroom.
  2. The people who have most to fear in bathrooms are those who are gender non-conforming and face harassment every time they try and go pee.
  3. And for trans youth, the inability to find a washroom in which to comfortably and safely relieve themselves leads them to drop out of school and leaves them even more vulnerable to homelessness.

Simply put, I support both sex education and human rights protections for trans people because I care deeply about THE CHILDREN — specifically the queer/trans youth in my community who are at highest risk of social exclusion, mental health issues and violence.

So I will use my “concerned parent” privilege as best I can to speak out against the manipulation of children — mine and yours — to further the cause of discrimination and harassment. Our kids deserve protection under the law and to see their families reflected in their school curriculum. If there is anything I’d like to shield my daughter from, it’s bigots like Charles McVety and Donald Plett.