Jenna Talackova and Rights for the Transgendered

My post earlier this week on the removal of Jenna Talackova from competition in the Miss Universe Canada pageant has become the most read article on my own blog since I began blogging a year and a half ago.  The story, at first just a whisper here and there, has blossomed into quite a sensation. However, in many cases, writers have missed the larger issue of the lack of protection for transexuals in our current human rights legislation.

It is one of the unfortunate things about our society that we need to have specific legislation to protect individuals from discrimination. I like to think the best of people, and I believe that the majority don’t give a damn about anyone else’s colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation or anything else that identifies some one as being different in some way. Unfortunately, there is a large enough percentage of the population that does care. It is for defence against these that we need legislation for protection. It is also unfortunate that this legislation cannot just say that discrimination in general is wrong and illegal. The legislation works on the principle of exclusion. If a reason against discrimination is not specifically defined, it does not exist.

While the story about Miss Talackova is in almost every mainstream media source, the existence of NDP Member Randall Garrison’s Bill C-279 has been almost entirely ignored by everyone other than bloggers.

Bill C-279 states, in part:

An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code (gender identity and gender expression)
Her Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate and House of Commons of Canada, enacts as follows:
1. Section 2 of the Canadian Human Rights Act is replaced by the following:
2. The purpose of this Act is to extend the laws in Canada to give effect, within the purview of matters coming within the legislative authority of Parliament, to the principle that all individuals should have an opportunity equal with other individuals to make for themselves the lives that they are able and wish to have and to have their needs accommodated, consistent with their duties and obligations as members of society, without being hindered in or prevented from doing so by discriminatory practices based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation,gender identity, gender expression, marital status, family status, disability or conviction for an offence for which a pardon has been granted.
2. Subsection 3(1) of the Act is replaced by the following:
3. (1) For all purposes of this Act, the prohibited grounds of discrimination are race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation,gender identity, gender expression, marital status, family status, disability and conviction for which a pardon has been granted.
3. Subsection 318(4) of the Criminal Code is replaced by the following:
(4) In this section, “identifiable group” means any section of the public distinguished by colour, race, religion, ethnic origin, gender identity, gender expression or sexual orientation.
4. Subparagraph 718.2(a)(i) of the Act is replaced by the following:
(i) 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, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, or any other similar factor,

The Bill seeks to add those 4 words to the relevant sections of the pre-existing acts that protect people against discrimination. For most of us, the concept of discrimination  on gender identity and expression is totally foreign. However, in some areas it is quite common, and like all forms of prejudice, the effects can be devastating.  Natalie Reed, a writer at Freethought Blogs is a women who has personal experience with the effects of prejudice.

How many trans people (including myself) have been openly and loudly misgendered at the welfare office? How many trans women have been kicked out of women’s shelters on the basis of being “really men” and forced to humiliate themselves and risk violence or sexual assault trying to be accommodated by men’s shelters? How many have been turned away from food banks on the basis that they don’t have “proper” identification? How many of us, exposed to this bigotry, humiliation, invalidation and risk simply stop trying to seek work or assistance, and end up falling between the cracks of the system, all because nobody can even be bothered to acknowledge this crucial gap in Canadian human rights law? And what good are marriage or adoption rights when you don’t even the basic necessities to take care of yourself, let alone a family?

She lists some of her friends who have struggled with these issues.

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

Catherine and Emily: who have to work tirelessly to sustain struggling independently owned businesses in order to scrape by because nobody will hire them.

Emily: despite her staggering and beautiful intelligence has had her bright academic future derailed by the negative preconceptions that exist even amongst the educated towards those who don’t quite fit into our expectations about gender. Where once she would have been assured an eventual tenure-tracked position, her future now hangs in anxious uncertainty, and her ability to earn (deserved) respect from her peers has been hamstringed by the potential to see her as a “tranny” first.

Kaitlyn Borgas: once a prominent and rising star chef in the upper class Vancouver restaurant circuit, forced into unemployment and poverty, her once weighted name dragged through the mud and now attended by derisive, snide giggling and hateful gossip, subjected to insensitive and insulting newspaper columns, ending up sending out scores of resumes to jobs for which she was grossly overqualified, only to not even be called in for an interview, as her family struggled to survive.

Saige: a woman I knew from the Vancouver trans community who ended up taking her own life last year due to simply being unable to cope living in such a hostile environment.

Kimberly Nixon: rejected from her position at Vancouver Rape Relief for being transsexual and therefore not a “real” woman and not able to “understand” the experiences of other women who had experienced rape or sexual assault.

Kimberly filed a human rights complaint that she ultimately lost because the organization were not restricted from rejecting her based upon her gender identity. That fact alone indicates the need for legislation.

Natalie’s blog is an excellent source for understanding issues around being transgendered and the difficulties these individuals face in our society.

Spread the word – contract your MPs and the media and see if we can get some traction for this Bill and the needed protection for our transgendered neighbours.

Cross posted at PEI Curmudgeon.

One Response to “Jenna Talackova and Rights for the Transgendered”

  1. Composer99 says:

    If your MP is not an MP on government benches I might suggest contacting the most topical cabinet minister as well as your MP.

    If nothing else, convincing the gov’t to allow a free vote in Parliament and putting enough pressure on enough MPs might give the bill the oomph it needs to pass the House.


  • John Underhay

    John Underhay, also known as Peicurmudgeon, is just your average atheist, left leaning, SCUBA diving, snorkeling, biker. He lives on PEI and spends some of his time attempting to point out the flaws and or dangers in promoting ideas that run contrary to the laws of physics, chemistry, or biology. He has a BSc (Biology) and an MSc (Pharmacology) from the University of Prince Edward Island, and is currently retired. You can read more of his posts at