Underwhelming response to trans rights bill, overwhelming response to trans beauty queen

I don’t know if you realized it when it happened, but last time around here in Canada, when bill C-389 amending the standing 1977 Canadian Human Rights Act to include transsexual and transgender rights was about to pass in the last parliament, it became a victim of the 2011 election when the government was dissolved before it could become law.

The process, which had taken almost a year, fell apart before its proponents’ eyes. Transsexual and transgender persons came within a hair’s breadth of being protected under our Charter, but became an accidental casualty instead of Harper’s bid for more power. They truly snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

If you have a memory that stretches all the way back to 2011, you’ll remember the common media narrative and pushback against this bill was that it was the “Bathroom Bill” — a bid to allow “perverts” to use a woman’s bathroom despite having a penis, and possibly prey on unsuspecting little girls. Suddenly, public bathrooms would go from safe havens to molestation central.

You know, because homosexuality and transsexuality are all about molesting little kids. Or something.

So, you might be surprised to know that this time around, now that Bill C-276 by Liberal MP Hedy Fry and C-279 by NDP MP Randall Garrison were introduced and now that by luck of the draw Garrison’s bill was read into the Parliament, pretty much nobody’s taking it seriously at all.

Not the media, not the MPs, nobody.

Now, I realize this might be because we progressives are getting pretty damned used to having, well, basically everything that is right and just and necessary and laudable in this world completely scuttled repeatedly by Harper’s present regime. But the media was all over the Tories’ narrative last time around — this time it’s just being ignored by everyone but us blogospheroids. Including, of course, a petition spread around by us blogospheroids aiming to get this bill noticed, and to push it through all the same hoops that the last one cleared before time ran out. Despite all this, the petition has almost no traction itself, with just over 700 signatures at time of publication.

Natalie Reed covered this topic to explain why this is so important to certain Canadians whose rights are being trampled legal without recourse:

Real living, breathing Canadians like my friend Sonya. She can’t find work because her identification doesn’t match her presented gender. Her identification doesn’t match her presented gender because she has not yet had lower surgery, required to obtain an updated gender marker on one’s birth certificate. She hasn’t yet had lower surgery because she can’t afford to see a psychiatrist for her required assessment and approval. She can’t afford to see a psychiatrist because she does not have work, and lives on the pittance offered by Quebec’s income assistance. Do you see the problem here? And this is to say nothing of those transgender Canadians who don’t even wish to undergo SRS.

But during this practical black-out, a trans rights story hit the media and is making a big splash. Most probably, because this particular story involves a very heteronormatively attractive post-op transsexual girl who was kicked out of a Canadian beauty pageant.

Let’s never mind all the problems with beauty contests for the moment, please. There are other issues at play here. This story also involves a petition to have Jenna Talackova reinstated in the Miss Universe Canada competition, which has received 23,000 signatures. Of course, any such petition would address only one minor grievance, and leave all those non-traditionally-beautiful trans folk jobless, homeless, mistrusted, abused, under duress and in immediate physical danger.

Know what would have prevented Talackova’s being kicked out of that competition? An amendment to the Canadian Human Rights Act. And the petition to have it heard only has seven hundred signatures.

If you care about human rights, if you actually give a damn about equality and human rights rather than just the story of a pretty girl who got kicked out of a beauty contest on a technicality — which probably only went viral because she’s traditionally pretty — then you’ll sign the right change.org petition.

Even if you’re an American. Actually, ESPECIALLY if you’re an American. The US sadly lags us for human rights and social programs, and if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll know that we’ve got some real regressives in power here at the moment. If this actually by some miracle passes under Harper’s regime, there’s hope for the US.

Also, please pass the petition around. This needs traction. It is important. It is vital. Far more vital, in fact, than white-knighting for a single beauty queen, no matter how nasty it is that she got kicked out of that contest.

Underwhelming response to trans rights bill, overwhelming response to trans beauty queen

20 thoughts on “Underwhelming response to trans rights bill, overwhelming response to trans beauty queen

  1. 3


    What Natalie Reed said.

    It is very easy for the people ‘above’ you to pretend no one’s complaining or is happy with the way things are if there isn’t a visible pushback. Polls are removed from the visible people that represent the discontent. Until you put a face to it (showing that you are passionate about this) those numbers don’t mean much.

  2. 4

    My only qualification to rallying your conservative MPs would be London West Mp Ed Holder. When we did that the first time the bill went through he brought up the washroom issue and then personally saw the bil got held in commitee long enough to drag it into the election. He’s a major bigot and better he doesn’t notice IMHO

  3. 7

    Icarus, it’s worth rallying ANYWAY. If the Conservatives are scared opposing this bill will hurt their image and make them look like blatant bigots, if the Conservatives are aware people KNOW ABOUT IT, then that can still have an impact on the vote.

  4. 8

    With only a few modifications, this would make a good letter to the editor. Chronicle Herald letters to the editor can be sent to [email protected].

    Canadians can find their MP here. I sent an email to Geoff Regan, but so far only got an acknowledgement that it was received.

  5. 9

    Ibis, I agree. I don’t intend to mislead, but it’s a little nuanced here.

    Sometimes adding a protected class explicitly, even though they’re protected under current law, is a good thing. For instance (and this example was just used on me in a discussion in fact!), discrimination against gay marriage was judged to be against our charter of human rights, long before gay marriage laws were put into place. So while people could theoretically have gone and gotten married thanks to that decision, they couldn’t, because too many institutions were interpreting the lack of specific protection as a carte blanche to discriminate.

    So, yes, Talackova could theoretically sue or appeal or whatnot under current law, but it would behoove us to include transgender and transsexual folks as explicitly protected classes. Even amending “sexual orientation” to include trans folk would be a step forward.

  6. 10

    Transsexual and transgender persons came within a hair’s breadth of being protected under our Charter

    This is so frustrating. There are a couple of misleading statements in your post, Jason.

    I will quote excerpts of what I wrote on Natalie’s blog instead of rewriting it.

    [There is no] relationship between the Charter and C-279 [nor the earlier bill].

    The Charter deals with the government’s actions. Can the government discriminate against people based on their race, religion, whatever? No. (cf. the 1st amendment of the US constitution: it’s all about whether the government can censor speech or establish a religion–a private institution or person can do all the establishing religion it wants).


    C-279 would amend the federal Human Rights Code. This has to do with citizens discriminating against each other–but only in areas under federal jurisdiction.

    [Both] the Charter and HRC are written in such a way that a class of people doesn’t have to be explicitly named to be protected. For example, from the OHRC [Ontario Human Rights Code] website (emphasis mine):

    The Ontario Human Rights Code (the Code) provides for equal rights and opportunities, and freedom from discrimination. The Code recognizes the dignity and worth of every person in Ontario, in employment, housing, facilities and services, contracts, and membership in unions, trade or professional associations.

    People who are discriminated against or harassed because of gender identity are legally protected under the ground of sex. This includes transsexual, transgender and intersex persons, cross-dressers, and other people whose gender identity or expression is, or is seen to be, different from their birth-identified sex.

    Will adding gender identity as an explicitly named class change this? No.* But I believe it will send a clearer message [and will certainly be of] benefit to people dealing with discrimination now.

    Discrimination that’s happening because the law is not being consistently and properly applied under the status quo.**

    [T]he other portion of C-279…would add gender identity and gender expression to the classes protected under the Hate Propaganda laws [S. 318-320] (under which falls incitement of genocide; incitement of hatred that is likely to lead to a breach of the peace; wilfully promoting hatred other than in private communication), [as well as] the sentencing guidelines pertaining to bias crime [s. 718] which currently reads:

    evidence that the offence was motivated by bias, prejudice or hate based on race, national or ethnic origin, language, colour, religion, sex, age, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation, or any other similar factor,

    Arguably*** “any other similar factor” includes gender identity and gender expression already, but Sections 318-320 are not inclusive. Only the following classes are protected:

    In this section, “identifiable group” means any section of the public distinguished by colour, race, religion, ethnic origin or sexual orientation.

    *I’m not a lawyer, but this means that Jenna Talackova could probably appeal to the OHR Tribunal under the existing law and win.

    **Another caveat: unfortunately, even should C-278 pass, a situation like the Kimberley Nixon case could still occur since it wasn’t the fact that gender identity wasn’t named as an explicitly protected class that allowed the BC Supreme Court to overturn the Tribunal’s decision. That was based on an exception within the code itself that allows charitable and religious non-profits to discriminate on certain grounds. (Not that I agree with the court’s decision in that case.)

    ***These guidelines are subject to the judge’s decision in each individual case, so it would be very difficult to say to what extent gender identity and gender expression are considered to be included currently and by what judges in which cases.

    Note: For anyone who will read this and mistakenly believe I oppose C-279, that is not the case. I have already signed the petition and plan to write my MP as soon as I’m finished my current project at work (also planning to write letters about M-312–the one about opening debate on whether women are human beings–and perhaps a couple more once I know what’s in the budget).

  7. 11

    I wonder if anyone has contacted Jenna Talackova and explained this situation to her. Obviously she is invested so maybe she could make a comment while her story is still in the media to give the bill more attention…just a thought.

  8. 12

    To date, there has been absolutely no successful legal dispute resolved in favour of a trans person victimized by discrimination. All such disputes over discrimination have ruled against the plaintiff, such as Kimberly Nixon v. Vancouver Rape Relief. Specific protections ARE necessary.

  9. 14

    Signed the first time I saw the link on Natalie’s blog!

    Should we be sending these letters to the media groups as well, see if the CBC would pick it up or anything?

  10. 16

    Regarding Jenna, even if she was allowed to compete at the Miss Canada Universe or the franchise was forced by law to accept her; I am pretty sure the organizers would have found a way to eliminate her from the final cut. See, the international pageant -owned by the always charming D. Trump- has a 50-year old rule that does not only define the candidate as a non-mother, never married young woman (over 18 but under 27)…they also specify a “naturally born female” (and yeah, we can get all philosophical as to what that means; but chances are a judge will look at that phrase and interpret it as “born with a vagina”).
    Further, as a Puertorican (where the Miss Universe pageant is a BIG deal); I can assure you that the cutthroat, competitive Latin American candidates will riot, Donald will lose sponsors and all hell will break lose if he ever allowed a transgender female on the pageant. Donald makes lots of money from the Latin American franchises (Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Mexico, etc); so I am pretty sure he’ll choose the “bigot” tag over losing his moolah. Back in 2001, the French candidate (Élodie Gossuin) was accused (yes, that’s the word used on most press articles) of being a transperson and they made her go in front of the press and deny it. It was a rumor spread by other candidates to hurt her chances…

  11. 19

    I heard back from my Liberal MP, Geoffrey Regan (Nova Scotia). He will support it, as he did the last one, citing human rights being a core principle of the Liberal party.

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