On October 21, the New York Times reported on a draft memo that confirmed that U.S. President Donald Trump's administration is considering narrowly defining gender as biological, unchangeable and determined at birth.
On October 25, the Guardian reported that the administration was working to remove language around gender from United Nations human rights documents, most often replacing "gender" with "women," in a further attack on the rights and very existence of trans people.
These are but the Trump administration's latest attacks on trans people both in America and internationally. Earlier this year, Trump attempted to ban transgender Americans from serving in the military, and was only halted by ongoing legal challenges. His administration rescinded a non-binding Obama-era guidance that told schools receiving federal funding that the rights of trans students were protected under civil rights legislation, and that trans students should be allowed access to the bathrooms and locker rooms that matched with their identified gender. And his administration is filled with prominent opponents of trans and LGBTQ rights, not the least of them being his own vice president, Mike Pence.
In short, president Trump, despite contentious claims to the contrary during his campaign, has a proven track record of attacking trans communities — and he's not done yet.
Our responsibility is not only to defend and enact those rights at home, but to advocate for them abroad.
Despite these appalling attacks on the rights of trans people, attacks that have created a growing culture of fear within trans communities, both in America and here in Canada, the Canadian government has remained silent in the face of these injustices.
Canada passed historic transgender human rights legislation in the form of Bill C-16, which added gender identity and gender expression as protected grounds in the Canadian Human Rights Act, and to the Criminal Code provisions dealing with hate propaganda, incitement to genocide and aggravating factors in sentencing. This brought the federal government in line with the rest of the country, where, in every province and territory, trans rights are explicitly protected in human rights legislation.
But Canada's commitment to trans rights is lacking if it doesn't extend to supporting trans rights both at home and abroad. If we genuinely believe trans rights are human rights — a claim that the Liberal government, Justin Trudeau personally, and the majority of Canadians stand behind — our responsibility is not only to defend and enact those rights at home, but to advocate for them abroad.
We are witnessing an unprecedented surge in right-wing populism across North America. Trump was elected president of the United States. Ontario elected Doug Ford as Premier. Ford who, as one of his first actions upon taking office, axed the previous Liberal government's updated trans- and LGBTQ-inclusive sex-ed curriculum, in a clear signal to social conservative factions that he put their interests before the health and well-being of LGBTQ — and particularly trans — students.
These issues are connected. Both Trump and Ford came to power by riding the tides of right-wing populism, and their actions since are making trans people like me all too aware of the precarious nature of my rights and safety. Trans communities in Canada are rightfully fearful that life will only get worse for us here, as life gets worse for people like us down south. North America is becoming a scarier place for trans people by the hour.
Bigots weren't this brave, nor this outspoken, before Trump came to power.
As a trans person, I am all too familiar with the realities of transphobia. I experience them every day, every time I leave my apartment. I am a proud, outspoken trans person. I refuse to hide in the face of transphobia, but I would be lying if I said I'm not scared. I already get glared at by strangers more days than not when I leave the house. But we've reached a point where strangers in public feel emboldened enough to call me disgusting to my face as I walk by. That terrifies me more than words can describe. Bigots weren't this brave, nor this outspoken, before Trump came to power.
The Canadian government has made real progress on LGBTQ issues over the past year, providing a beacon of hope to trans and gender diverse Canadians. They've embedded trans rights in our federal human rights legislation and the Criminal Code of Canada. And they've apologized for the injustices and persecutions the federal government had in the past enacted on LGBTQ Canadians. But with a majority government, and a supportive populace, these were neither difficult, nor contentious decisions.
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If this government is truly committed to human rights — and indeed believes that trans rights are human rights — it must stand up for trans people. Justin Trudeau and the Canadian government must send a clear message to Canadians, the United States, and the international community that trans rights are human rights — and that Canada will not stand idly by while those rights are under attack, at home, or abroad.
Justin Trudeau must vehemently condemn president Trump's attacks on trans rights.
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