Generational Bigotry: The Transgender Rights Debate in Canada

Despite every difference – real or imagined – between human beings, there’s one thing we all have in common: the need to pee and poo. This may seem like a juvenile introduction to a very serious topic, but it’s a point politicians often miss or ignore when discussing transgender rights.

On May 17, 2016, the International Day Against Homophobia, the Trudeau government introduced Bill C-16, a Federal law that would extend human rights protections to all Canadians regardless of gender identity. Not to be outdone, Quebec Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée introduced Bill No 103 which would amend Quebec’s existing legislation to include gender identity as one of the prohibited forms of discrimination and make it easier for transgender teens to change their names and gender on their official documents.

Federal Bill C-16, also known as An Act to Amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code, would amend the Federal Human Rights Act to include “gender identity or expression” among the prohibited reasons for discrimination. The law would also modify the Criminal Code’s subsections on hate propaganda and hate crimes.

The current law on hate propaganda defines it as advocating or promoting genocide against any identifiable group based on “colour, race, religion, national or ethnic origin, age, sex, sexual orientation, or mental or physical disability.” C-16 would expand the definition of identifiable group to include gender identity or expression. The law would also force the courts to consider evidence that a crime was motivated by bias, hate or prejudice against transgender people as an aggravating circumstance of the crime when sentencing offenders.

The proposed Quebec law is a little different because provinces cannot impose criminal sanctions. Bill No 103, also known as An Act to strengthen the fight against transphobia and improve the situation of transgender minors in particular alters the Civil Code of Quebec and the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms to extend protections to transgender people.

Inspired by the case of David James Lazure, a fourteen year old transgender teen who had to switch to homeschooling because his McMasterville high school would not recognize his gender identity, the law would make it easier for minors age fourteen and up to get their name and gender changed on their official documents provided they have the consent of their guardian(s). The law would also amend the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms to include “gender identity” as one of the forms of discrimination prohibited by law.

According to Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée, the National Assembly is in agreement about the law going forward. Unfortunately, Quebec’s transgender community is going to have to wait for the bill to go through for on May 31, 2016, Vallée tabled the legislation, most likely because the National Assembly breaks for the summer on June 10th.

At the federal level, there’s a lot more opposition. This is the seventh time a bill granting equal rights to transgender people has been brought before the House of Commons. Nearly every time, the laws, previously introduced by the NDP, were killed by a mostly conservative Senate.

The arguments used by Conservatives against granting transgender people equal rights are eerily similar to those raised by bigots in the US and like those arguments, are never backed by any numbers and most revolve around bathroom use. They claim that abused women will be uncomfortable sharing a washroom with trans women and that pedophiles will use transgender protections to gain access to bathrooms so they can assault children.

gender neutral bathroom

In 2013, former Conservative MP Rob Anders said right before a commons vote that his objections were all about safeguarding “our children.” Conservative Senator Don Plett who had blocked previous trans rights bills talked about the discomfort his granddaughter would feel sharing a bathroom with a biological male.

While middle-aged male politicians are ranting about protecting children, if you ask the children what they think about transgender bathroom access, you’ll see a stark difference of opinion. As it turns out the opinion on transgender rights isn’t just split politically between liberals and conservatives, it’s also split generationally.

Gen Yers and Millenials are not quite as closed-minded as their conservative parents and are a lot more apprised of actual facts regarding transgender people in Canada.

Rachel is a nineteen year old recent high school graduate from Montreal. When asked about the bathroom issue, she said that they (transgender people) should go to the bathroom that they identify with.

In an article posted on May 24th, 2016 CBC News spoke to teens across Canada about it and the results were the same: no one saw the big deal about letting people use the bathroom of the gender they identify with. One Toronto teen even went insofar as to say that if you check the numbers, transgender students are far more at risk of harm than their cisgender peers.

“I don’t know or care what your genitalia, use the bathroom that matches your gender identity,” says Chantal Nathaniel, a thirty two year old Montrealer.

Many businesses in Montreal are showing their support for the transgender community because, as one 33 year old business owner said:

“The washrooms are spaces that don’t functionally need to be gendered.”

The transphobic arguments pushed by Conservatives are not backed by any facts. The eighteen states in the US with transgender protection bills have not seen a rise in sexual violence and there are no statistics confirming that transgender people commit sexual assaults in washrooms.

Arguments that transgender people would make cisgender people uncomfortable if they had to share a bathroom are about as worthless as advocating for racially segregated bathrooms due to xenophobia. They claim to be in the public interest when what they really are is another form of bigotry likely to die with the boomer generation.

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