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Canada Poised to Add Trans Protections

by Kilian Melloy
Friday Feb 4, 2011
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Canada is poised to add protections for transgender citizens to its existing human rights legislation, Xtra! reported on Feb. 2. One vote has already taken place on the legislation; a second vote, followed by a third and final vote, is expected to take place in the House of Commons next week.

The bill can come before the House of Commons thanks to lawmaker Olivia Chow, who traded with the trans bill’s sponsor, Bill Siksay, providing an earlier spot on the body’s schedule for Siskay’s legislation while pushing her own bill--which would allow Canadians a "once in a lifetime" immigration sponsorship for a relative--back to next month. This puts Siksay’s trans protections bill ahead of a possible governmental shakeup.

"With all the election speculation, it’s important to get the trans bill voted on at third reading and have it done just in case there’s an election," Chow told the media. "Also, Bill is not running again, and I want to make sure that the trans bill becomes law, and that will be part of his legacy."

Added the lawmaker, "I just wanted to make sure that the Senate has ample time to approve the [trans] bill so there’s no excuse, even in the off chance there’s an election."

Siksay expressed optimism despite the switch leaving less time for debate on the bill. "My sense is people are pretty clear where they’re going on this," Siksay told the media. "We had the one vote already; the vote was clear, so I’m not anticipating much of a change from that. I do worry about absences and who’s going to be there and who’s not when it’s such a close vote, so that could change the result."

"I’m glad it’s being pushed up because every time we delay bills that have to do with fundamental justice and fundamental equality, those people remain unequal and have no justice," lawmaker and physician Hedy Fry said. "It’s important.... [Trans] people don’t have access to drugs that they need. Many of them have to go to other countries; they have butcher jobs done on them."

Added Fry, This is discrimination as far as I’m concerned, when you look at saying some people, where there’s a medical diagnosis, can’t have their work done. For me that’s the biggest piece, this inability for people to have drugs and the services that they need. We know about the discrimination; we know about the way that people feel about them, but the other part is just a lack of access to justice and medical care."

If the bill passes the next two votes in the House of Commons, it will go to the Senate. Siskay said that there were "No volunteers yet" to sponsor the bill, "but hopefully we’ll have that before too long, if we get to that point. I really hope we do."

Fry noted that the same Senate as is currently in power also approved marriage equality in Canada. "We moved the agenda forward for the GLBT communities--but we didn’t get the T quite in, so this is that part that needs to be looked at."

In the United States there are few federal protections for gays and none for transgender citizens, who face steep personal tolls in addition to the possible loss of jobs or careers if they transition or begin to live openly as the gender with which they identify.

An illustration of the risks and trials that trans Americans face was posted at The Bilerico Project on Feb. 3. The posting contained an essay by Jane Ireland, a transwoman who had been fired from jobs during her transition from man to woman and faced prejudice from her faith community.

"Like many other trans people, I struggled for years with my identity," Ireland wrote. "From a young age, I felt that I wasn’t living in the right body. But I was always afraid that my family, my friends, and my church would never allow me to live as the woman I was. So I suppressed those emotions for years, even marrying a woman who remains a dear friend and having three children with her."

When Ireland finally did emerge as a transwoman, she lost her job in IT project management and took up a job waiting tables. As she progressed toward a legal change of gender, however, she lost that job as well. "I did not have any complaints against me. My guests loved me. But it didn’t matter," wrote Ireland, "I had never been treated so poorly on the job."

What Ireland did not have to face that many trans individuals suffer was the loss of her family. "All my children love and accept me, much more so than they did when I was trying too hard as a frustrated, critical father," she wrote. "My mom and siblings love me. My mom calls me her child, which is truly an honor. She is beautiful, and I could not be happier that I looked like her.

"I have also found strength in my faith," Ireland wrote. " I love Jesus with all my heart and he accepts, encourages and helps me. Sadly though, most of Christianity is in a self-absorbed, loveless state. I’m afraid most former friends are too self-righteous to research who I am and discover that my transgender identity is who I am, not a choice. They are missing the emergence of this butterfly into her full glory."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network’s Assistant Arts Editor, writing about film, theater, food and drink, and travel, as well as contributing a column. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association’s Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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