Labour Views – August 5, 2015

Written by Gayla Thunstrom, Acting President, Northern Territories Federation of Labour

The clamour that followed the passage of anti-labour Bill C-377 by the Senate just before it rose on June 30 all but drowned out another negative move.  The Senate permitted Bill C-279, on transgender rights, to die on the order paper.

NDP MP Randall Garrison’s private member’s bill would have added gender identity provisions to both the Criminal Code and the Canadian Human Rights Act, extending protection against hate crimes to transgender individuals.

The effort to protect trans-gender rights has a long history.   Former MP Bill Siksay introduced a similar bill in 2009, but Parliament was dissolved before it could reach the Senate.

It was reintroduced in September 2011, and passed by the House of Commons in 2013.  But Stephen Harper strongly opposed it, as did the vast majority of the Conservative caucus.

The bill then went to the Senate, where it was gutted through Conservative amendments.  Six years work to enshrine rights and protections for transgender people died when Parliament ended June 30.

You don’t have to dig too deep into Tory intolerance to understand Conservative opposition.

Transgender issues are poorly understood by most people, particularly social conservatives.  But the debate is not whether transgender lifestyles are a matter for approval by society at large. Trans folks already live difficult lives without moral judgements that fail to respect individual choice and dignity.  They are what they are, and why shouldn’t they be?

Transgender individuals challenge conventional biological notions of gender. They throw into question people’s comfortable sense of gender identity.  It is not surprising that so-called “transphobia raises its ugly head everywhere, as it just did in the Senate.

The arguments against transgender progress are based upon a hodgepodge of ideas about sexual identity being solely a matter of biology.  But the two are not necessarily linked.  We could just as well explain away sexual preference as simply a matter of biological identity.

“Gender” prejudice still claims its victims every day. Ask anyone involved in the ongoing fight for access to abortion, for example. Or take note of university presidents who claim that some areas of study are dominated by men because of their innate superior abilities.

That’s intolerant and the prejudices associated with categories of gender, race or sexual identity have shackled these people for centuries, imposing untold misery.

Thanks to unelected legislators in the Senate, trans people remain vulnerable to open discrimination and even violent physical assault in Canada just because of who they are, unprotected by rights legislation and Criminal Code hate crime provisions.

In the final analysis, it all comes down to basic human decency. Why not live and let live? Bill C-279 was an attempt to counter prejudice, discrimination and blind hatred. It died because those forces proved momentarily stronger.

During NWT Pride celebrations August 7 to 9, let’s renew our resolve to protection of transgender rights, and push for the re-introduction of protective law when a more humane and respectful government is elected.