Spencer Chandra Herbert: Together we can build a better B.C. that celebrates all gender identities

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by Spencer Chandra… on Nov 21, 2014 at 12:12 pm

Another Transgender Day of Remembrance has come and gone. On November 20, people in communities across the province, the country, and the world took time to mark the loss of transgender people through acts of violence, poverty, and denial. At the B.C. legislature in Victoria we had a moving ceremony where those whose lives were prematurely cut short were honoured and remembered.

Transgender and gender-variant people in our communities face rates of violence significantly higher than the general population. They also face everyday discrimination in housing, employment, and on the street that most of us couldn’t imagine. While governments are increasingly becoming aware of the challenges facing transgender people in our communities, more needs to be done.

That’s why I introduced the Gender Identity and Expression Human Rights Recognition Act for a third time this session. This simple legislation would explicitly add gender identity and expression to the B.C. Human Rights Code. Amending the B.C. Human Rights Code would be a small but necessary step towards making our province and our communities more welcoming for transgender people.

For too long trans and gender-variant people across the province have felt unprotected by our laws, and felt invisible in our courts and communities. For too long many have felt the law is not there to protect them. Passing my bill would help change that perception by explicitly protecting one’s gender identity and gender expression from discrimination.

While some judges have read gender identity into our human rights laws under the category of sex, it is time we as legislators stand and put it there in law explicitly so there can be no confusion, so that when our teachers teach the human rights code, there can be no question. When our business people and our government serve transgender people, there can be no question. Most importantly, when transgender or gender-variant people face hatred, there can be no question. We should be on their side, and we should have their backs.

For too long, there’s been a top-down approach that denies transgender people very fundamental human rights. Indeed our government has, until very recently, barely recognized transgendered people’s existence at all. That’s why it’s so critically important not to accept the idea that “reading in” gender identity into our human rights code as good enough. This continues a legacy of making transgender people in our communities invisible.

We must make a choice to act against the violence of denial, the violence of assault, and the violence that continues to kill trans people at a much higher rate than the rest of us. We must make a choice to include transgender people in our health, education, justice systems—and, most importantly, in our communities.

Ontario, Nova Scotia, Manitoba, and the Northwest Territories have all taken the simple step of changing their human rights codes to affirm the rights of transgender and gender-variant people in their communities. It’s time for British Columbia to do the same.

I’m hopeful that all members of the legislature can support this basic step towards affirming transgender and gender variant British Columbians and strengthening human rights protections for all of us. I encourage all British Columbians to write to their MLAs letting them know that they want to see this important legislation move forward.

Most importantly, we should all thank the transgender advocates in our community for their continued leadership as we work together to build a better, more inclusive world that welcomes us each equally.