One step closer to human rights for all

Today, a private members bill, commonly referred to as the “transgender rights bill” passed a vote in Canada’s House of Commons. This is a huge step for the transgender community, as it means that the federal Human Rights Act will now include language that disallows discrimination on the basis of gender identity. Transgender and transsexual persons, have not, up to now, enjoyed explicit protection under the Act.

I was happy to note that 16 Conservative party members voted in favour of the bill, as did the overwhelming majority of the Opposition parties. Next, the bill must pass a vote in the senate, but the senate rarely votes down bills that have already gone through the lower parliament – things are looking good.

There it is. I, like other human beings, regardless of race, class, religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity, am protected under the law. It feels pretty great.

Meanwhile, south of the border, Arizona is attempting to pass a bill that would prohibit a person from using a washroom other than the one that matches one’s assigned birth gender. This would apply to shower rooms, dressing rooms or changing rooms too. For transgender individuals this bill spells disaster, as the penalty is severe: up to six months in prison! Whether law enforcement will enforce it is another matter, but not one that should be up for debate.

You win some, you fight for some.

One of the common objections to transgender people using public washrooms according to their chosen gender is that this would supposedly sanction pedophiles (generally men) going into women’s washrooms and exposing themselves to vulnerable young children. Of course this argument makes no mention of the large number of transgender men (who were assigned female at birth) who stand to gain legal access to men’s washrooms. Presumably, we (I am a trans man) do not pose a sufficient threat to young boys to warrant mention. But let’s let that issue slide…

The argument contains a number of other flaws that I’m sure most discerning readers have picked up on but let’s break it down further:

  1. Scientific and medical research shows absolutely no link between gender identity disorder (to use the terminology of the DSM-IV) and pedophilia. 
  2. If a man wanted to expose himself to a child, he could do so whether or not this bill passed. We do not have guards at bathroom doors. All this bill does is allow transgender women (who were assigned male at birth) to use the facilities that match their gender presentation.
  3. The Harry Benjamin Standards of Care, which many healthcare professional ascribe to in the treatment of transsexual patients, requires that a transgender person do a real life test of two years during which they must live publicly in the gender to which they wish to transition prior to getting approved for surgery. A legal bill that prohibits a transgender individual from entering a washroom that matches their gender presentation directly contradicts what medical treatment dictates.
  4. The argument also does not acknowledge the existence of individuals who are born intersex, with abnormal genitalia that are neither typically male nor female. Surely, these individuals should have the right to use the washroom of their choice regardless of what their birth certificate says? Again, no link exists between pedophilia and disorders of sexual development (also known as intersex conditions).

I hope Arizona will do the right thing and vote this bill down.

As for me, I’m thrilled that my government recognizes my right to exist (even if Prime Minister Harper himself opposed the bill).

Small steps, but steps nonetheless.

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