ST. JOHN'S, N.L. - As Newfoundland and Labrador celebrates its gay pride week, pressure is growing on the province to improve human rights protections for the transgender community, one of society's most marginalized and vulnerable groups.
The NDP has called on the Progressive Conservative government to add gender identity as a prohibited ground of discrimination under its Human Rights Act.
Openly gay NDP member Gerry Rogers says the province should follow action already taken in the Northwest Territories, Ontario, Manitoba and parts of the U.S. and Europe to distinctly protect men and women who present as the opposite sex or are in the midst of transitioning.
In Ottawa, an NDP bill to include gender identity in federal human rights law has won support from several members of the Conservative majority government.
"We know the research that's out there. It's undeniable, the type of discrimination that transgendered, transsexual people experience on a daily basis, whether it be actual hate crimes or very subtle discrimination," Rogers said in an interview.
"It's important that our human rights code extends specific protection for them."
Rogers has repeatedly pushed the government on the issue to no avail. But the passing of a bill last month to add both "gender identity" and "gender expression" to Ontario's human rights code was hailed by supporters as a breakthrough that could see other provinces follow suit.
Zack Marshall, a 42-year-old social worker and PhD student at Memorial University of Newfoundland, was born a woman but has been living as a man for seven years. He moved to St. John's last year from Toronto, where he says he made his sexual transition with the support and services he needed.
Many others living in remote areas or without the ability to navigate complex social and medical systems aren't so lucky, he said in an interview. Rates of suicide, depression and poverty stalk the transgender community like no other, Marshall said of statistics compiled by Trans PULSE, a project funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.
It reported in 2010 the results of a survey of 433 transgender people aged 16 or older in Ontario. It found that 43 per cent of respondents had attempted suicide, 20 per cent had been targets of physical or sexual assaults and 34 per cent had been verbally harassed or threatened.
While the estimated transgender population in Newfoundland and Labrador is tiny by comparison, Marshall says it's no less important that the province add specific gender identity protections to ensure fair access to housing, jobs and other services.
"It makes trans people more visible," he said. "It makes it possible to say, 'Hey, you know we have a policy here that says I have a right to have access to this.'"
Provincial Justice Minister Felix Collins said in an email that he's willing to consider changes, but discrimination based on gender identity is already prohibited.
He stressed that the Newfoundland and Labrador Human Rights Commission has an internal guideline "that complaints related to gender expression, gender identity, transsexual and transgender are accepted under the prohibited ground of 'sex.'"
Still, chairman Remzi Cej said in an email that the provincial Human Rights Commission "strongly supports the addition of gender identity into the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination under the NL Human Rights Act."
Moreover, he said the commission advised the government to that effect back in 2009 when it held consultations for its new 2010 human rights legislation.
Collins has also raised concerns about how "gender identity" should be defined. In May, he told the house of assembly in response to Rogers that it "was too confusing an issue to try to explain it in one single provision in the Human Rights Act."
Toronto-area NDP member Cheri DiNovo, who led efforts to include gender protections in Ontario's law, has little time for such arguments.
"Quite frankly, just to say 'sex' or 'sexual orientation' does not cover trans people," she said in an interview.
She referred to provincial and federal cases where transgender people have been denied everything from driver's licences to airline boarding passes because their identification "doesn't match up with what they're seen to be by some official."
Ottawa-Centre member Yasir Naqvi, a governing Liberal who co-sponsored DiNovo's bill, said the focus in Ontario was on protecting rights.
"Definitional arguments can become a red herring sometimes, preventing us from doing the right thing."
Ontario human rights lawyer Douglas Elliott said extending those protections in other parts of the country would, at the very least, symbolically ease "a very tragic situation."
"The message that leaving this out of human rights legislation sends to trans people is that they're not welcome as members of the community, that they're not part of the family, that they deserve the kind of ill treatment that they receive," he said from Toronto.
"Folks in Newfoundland and Labrador in particular know what inclusion is all about and how important it is to feel part of a community."
The Brazilian supermodel was discovered by Givenchy designer Riccardo Tisci when <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/lea-givenchys-transgender-star-brazilian-supermodel-undergoing-sex/story?id=11269995#.TsV9BGVPlcg" target="_hplink">he hired her as his personal assistant</a>. Soon after she became his muse and her modeling career began. She has been featured in high-profile fashion magazines like "Vogue Paris," "Hercules," "Interview," "Love," and "Cover."
Silveira is the lead singer of the band The Cliks. The Cliks made history as <a href="http://www.phinli.com/Talent/Profile/lucas-silveira" target="_hplink">the first band with an openly trans male leader</a> signed by a major record label, Tommy Boy Entertainment's imprint Silver Label. In 2009 he made history again as the f<a href="http://www.chartattack.com/news/78485/avril-lavigne-lights-tegan-and-sara-cliks-franz-ferdinand-sloan-win-in-15th-annual-year-e" target="_hplink">irst transman to be voted Canada's Sexiest Man</a> by readers of Canadian music magazine <em>Chart Attack</em>.
The son of Cher and Sonny Bono, Chaz publicly revealed <a href="http://www.tvguide.com/News/Chastity-Bono-Gender-1006849.aspx" target="_hplink">he was transitioning in 2009</a> and since then has been one of the most visible members of the trans community. In May he published his memoir, "Transition: The Story Of How I Became A Man," and this fall he was a contestant on "Dancing With The Stars" and was named one of <em>Out</em> magazine's <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/08/chaz-bono-shows-off-his-stubble-in-out_n_1082303.html" target="_hplink">100 LGBT people of the year.</a>
Richards is an ophthalmologist, author, and former professional tennis player. After transitioning in 1975, she <a href="http://www.tennispanorama.com/archives/9472" target="_hplink">was banned from playing in the U.S. Open</a> by the United States Tennis Association (USTA) because only biological women were allowed to participate in the tournament. Richards fought the ban and a 1977 New York Supreme Court decision ruled in her favor. She continued to play until 1981. This fall <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/27/renee-richards-film_n_854578.html" target="_hplink">a documentary about Richards's life</a>, "Renée," was released.
King was the first (and, thus far, only) <a href="https://www.facebook.com/isisking" target="_hplink">trans model to be featured</a> on the reality fashion competition "America's Next Top Model." She was seen on both the 11th and 17th "cycles" of the show.
In 2008 Thomas Beatie became famous when he revealed that he was pregnant with his first child. Soon after Beatie and his wife, Nancy, made headlines and he became known as "the pregnant man." The couple now has three children, all carried by Thomas, and he recently revealed that he is <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/31/pregnant-man-thomas-beati_n_1067326.html" target="_hplink">considering undergoing a hysterectomy.</a>
Marci Bowers, M.D.
Dr. Marci Bowers is a <a href="http://marcibowers.com/" target="_hplink">pioneer in the field of transgender transitional surgery</a> and is the first known trans woman to perform these types of procedures.. After practicing in Trinidad, Colo., which is known as the "sex change capital of the world" due to the high number of surgeries performed there, she moved her practice to San Mateo, California, in December 2010.
Cayne made history when she accepted a role on "Dirty Sexy Money" and became the first transgender actress to play a recurring transgender character in prime time. She's also appeared on "Nip/Tuck," "RuPaul's Drag Race," and "Necessary Roughness."
Kim Coco Iwamoto
In 2006 Iwamoto was <a href="http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,229937,00.html#ixzz1eCixXAuI" target="_hplink">elected to a position on Hawaii's state Board of Education</a> and became (at the time) the highest-elected transgender official in the United States. She <a href="http://hawaii.gov/elections/results/2010/general/files/histatewide.pdf" target="_hplink">ran for re-election in 2010</a> and won.
Kye Allums is the <a href="http://www.lgbtqnation.com/2011/10/lgbt-history-month-kye-allums-first-openly-transgender-athlete/" target="_hplink">first openly transgender athlete to play NCAA Division I</a> college basketball. He was a shooting guard on the George Washington University women's basketball team until this year when he decided to no longer play. Allums is now busy speaking about his life around the country.
Sylvia Rivera (1951 - 2002)
A veteran of the 1969 Stonewall uprising (some claim she threw the first heel), Rivera fought for the rights of all queer people, not just those who fit into more homonormative molds. Described by Riki Wilchins as "<a href="http://www.villagevoice.com/2002-02-26/news/a-woman-for-her-time/" target="_hplink">the Rosa Parks of the modern transgender movement</a>," Rivera founded Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries, or STAR, "a radical group that did everything from marching to setting up crash pads as an alternative to the streets," among other activist roles. Today <a href="http://srlp.org/" target="_hplink">The Sylvia Rivera Law Project,</a> which works to guarantee that all people are free to self-determine gender identity and expression regardless of income or race, and <a href="https://www.facebook.com/pages/SYLVIAS-PLACE/156906310002" target="_hplink">Sylvia's Place</a>, a NYC emergency homeless shelter for LGBT youth, both exist to honor Rivera's life and work.
Michael Dillon (1915 - 1962)
Dillon was the first person known to have transitioned both hormonally and surgically from female to male. A British writer, physician, philosopher, and Buddhist, Dillon penned several books including, "Self: A Study in Ethics and Endocrinology" (1946), "Growing Up into Buddhism" (1960), "The Life of Milarepa" (1962), "Imji Getsul" (1962), and numerous articles. He was in love with another famous transgender person, Roberta Cowell, but she did not share his feelings. He died in India -- where he had moved to study, meditate, and wrote under the name Lobzang Jivaka -- just days after sending his memoir, "Out Of The Ordinary," to his literary agent.
Cowell is the first British trans woman to undergo sex-reassignment surgery. She transitioned in 1951. Prior to that, she was a Spitfire pilot during World War II and a race car driver. Cowell, who was friends with transgender man Michael Dillon, transitioned a year before celebrated American trans woman <a href="http://www.transgenderzone.com/features/ChristineJorgensen.htm" target="_hplink">Christine Jorgenson</a> underwent surgery in Denmark. You can <a href="http://www.changelingaspects.com/Life Stories/Roberta Cowells Story.htm" target="_hplink">read Cowell's autobiography here</a>.
Sanchez worked tirelessly in the LGBT community before he became the <a href="http://www.examiner.com/transgender-transsexual-issues-in-national/diego-sanchez-trans-man-on-capitol-hill-works-for-passage-of-inclusive-enda" target="_hplink">first trans person to hold a senior congressional staff position</a> on Capitol Hill. In December 2008 he began working for Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) tracking LGBT, healthcare, veterans, and labor issues.
The <a href="http://katebornstein.typepad.com/" target="_hplink">writer, playwright, and performance artist</a> is the author of several seminal tomes on gender theory including 1994's "Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us" and in 2006 she wrote "Hello Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks and Other Outlaws." She is currently at work on a memoir.
The world's first female-to-male porn star, Angel also works as an advocate, educator, lecturer and writer. In 2007 <a href="http://buckangel.com/bio.html" target="_hplink">Angel won the Adult Video News Transsexual Performer of the Year</a> award and was written into Armistead Maupin's "Michael Tolliver Lives," one of the novels in the "Tales Of The City" series. He has spoken around country, including an appearance at Yale University in 2010.
In 2011 Grodzka became Poland's <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/11/anna-grodzka-transgender-politician_n_1004840.html" target="_hplink">first openly transgender parliamentarian</a>. She is the third transgender MP in world history after the transsexual New Zealand MP Georgina Beyer, and the transgender Italian MP, Vladimir Luxuria, who has not had a legal sex change. Grodzka, who transitioned last year, secured a place in the Sejm, the nation's lower house of parliament. "Today, Poland is changing. I am the proof..." Grodzka said.
Billy Tipton (1914 - 1989)
Tipton was a saxophone and piano player and bandleader popular during the 1940's and '50s. He eventually settled down in Spokane, Washington, got married, and adopted three sons. It wasn't until after his death from a <a href="http://news.stanford.edu/stanfordtoday/ed/9705/9705fea601.shtml" target="_hplink">hemorrhaging ulcer</a> that Tipton's birth gender was revealed to his sons and the rest of the world.
Rasmussen became the <a href="http://www.sturasmussen.com/realityCheck.htm" target="_hplink">first transgender mayor in the United States</a> when he was elected to the office in Silverton, Oregon, in November 2008. He writes on <a href="http://www.sturasmussen.com/realityCheck.htm" target="_hplink">his website</a>: <blockquote>"I just happen to be transgendered -- something I didn't even know the word for until I discovered it on the Internet. I've been a crossdresser or transvestite my whole life, only 'coming out' recently and thereby discovering that life goes on very nicely."</blockquote>
Louis Gradon Sullivan (1955 - 1991)
In 1976 <a href="http://www.lousullivansociety.org/about-lou-sullivan.html" target="_hplink">Lou G. Sullivan began applying for</a> sex-reassignment surgery, but was rejected because he identified as gay. At the time, "female-to-gay male transsexuality was not recognized by the medical/psychotherapeutic establishment as a legitimate form of gender dysphoria at that time." After mounting a successful campaign to get homosexuality removed from a list of objections which served to keep interested candidates from undergoing surgery, Sullivan finally obtained genital reconstruction surgery in 1986. That same year <a href="http://www.lousullivansociety.org/about-lou-sullivan.html" target="_hplink">he organized FTM</a>, "the first peer-support group devoted entirely to female-to-male [transsexual and transvestite] individuals."