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Irwin Cotler


The Transgender Bill Is About Equality, Not Bathrooms

Posted: 03/21/2013 12:50 pm

Last night the House of Commons passed C-279, a bill that provides human rights protections to transgendered Canadians. Since its introduction over a year ago, critics have reduced it to the "Bathroom Bill," a distorted characterization of what is truly important domestic human rights legislation.

C-279 adds protections to the Canadian Human Rights Act (CHRA) and the Criminal Code on the basis of 'gender identity', thus offering transgendered Canadians a clear and consistent remedy for the alarmingly high level of discrimination they experience. Indeed, the Ontario Human Rights Commission stated that these individuals are as "disadvantaged and disenfranchised" as any in our society.

This legislation not only carries great symbolic value, but would also produce three substantive and practical effects to help reduce the frequency of discrimination and violence against transgendered Canadians: first, the Canadian Human Rights Commission would begin keeping statistical account of such incidents; second, the Commission would start raising awareness of transgender issues through its communications; and third, public officials would receive briefings and training on the matter.


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  • Lea T

    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."

  • Lucas Silveira

    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>.

  • Chaz Bono

    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>

  • Renée Richards

    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.

  • Isis King

    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.

  • Thomas Beatie

    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.

  • Candis Cayne

    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

    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.

  • Roberta Cowell

    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>.

  • Diego Sanchez

    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.

  • Kate Bornstein

    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.

  • Buck Angel

    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.

  • Anna Grodzka

    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.

  • Stu Rasmussen

    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."

Moreover, there is precedent for the use of the term 'gender identity' in Canadian provincial as well as international contexts, notably in the UN Declaration on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, which Canada signed in 2008, as well as in the internationally recognized Yogyakarta Principles.

To be clear, tribunals already do hear the cases of transgendered Canadians, but such claims must be tailored to fit the existing grounds of sex and disability. This makes legal proceedings more complex -- and thus more costly -- while only reinforcing the misconception that to be transgendered is to be disabled.

Such is the status quo that the vast majority of Conservatives prefer to maintain. They claim that C-279 is at best symbolic and at worst redundant and unnecessary given existing jurisprudence. They also believe it to be exceedingly vague, having spent much of the Parliamentary debate on the bill thus far warning of the potential for exploitation -- as if there exists some mass of men and women just waiting to commit criminal offences while masquerading as the opposite sex under the cover of this legislation. This is in itself frivolous fear-mongering.

And this relates back to the bathroom issue. Consider first that there currently is no law preventing a man from entering a women's public washroom or changing room, but that there are laws against sexual assault of any kind, anywhere. Then, as the bill's sponsor revealed, of the four jurisdictions in the United States that have had these protections for transgendered people in place for some time (California, Iowa, Colorado and Washington), all reported no instances of attempts to exploit them for illegal or illegitimate purposes.

However, not all Conservatives have resorted to such derogatory associations with respect to C-279; indeed, 18 of them in total, including four cabinet ministers, voted for the bill last night. This was largely the result of a compromise arranged by the bill's sponsor to remove 'gender expression' from the legislation and add a definition for 'gender identity' in order to ensure Conservative support. While I had hoped that both 'gender identity' and 'gender expression' could have remained in the bill, I appreciate the need for compromise and commend the sponsor (Randall Garrison of the NDP) for his hard work on this bill.

Now the legislation heads to the Senate for its consideration. I am hopeful, however, that during review by a Senate committee, the same spectacle observed on the House side does not repeat. Though it did not receive much attention at the time, a minority of Conservatives on the Justice Committee attempted to torpedo the aforementioned compromise, including through the extra-ordinary action of inviting an additional MP, who was not on the committee, to help bog down proceedings.

Nevertheless, the compromise still could have been implemented at committee, and one supportive Conservative member present helped advance this. Unfortunately, once the amendment to remove 'gender expression' had been approved, the Conservatives opposed to the bill engaged in a filibuster, forcing the legislation back to the House unamended -- for the time being. However, at Report Stage, in a rare turn of events, the Speaker of the House acknowledged this behaviour and ruled to permit the sponsor's amendments -- in essence, his compromise -- to be reconsidered by the full House of Commons, thus giving new life to the bill.

I am pleased that not only was the compromise supported, but that the bill itself passed. Moreover, I applaud the 18 Conservatives who voted in favour for their open-mindedness, though it is regrettable that so many others sought this bill's defeat, especially considering that it has been a long time coming. Indeed, similar legislation has been introduced seven times since 2005, including a nearly identical bill that was actually passed by the House in 2011, but then died on the Senate floor following the dissolution of Parliament that same year. Now I am hopeful that the Senate will pass this legislation, allowing us to finally enshrine these much-needed equality protections for transgendered Canadians into law.