Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to speak to Bill C-389, affectionately known as the trans rights bill.
I was here for the first hour of debate at second reading when my colleague, the member for Burnaby—Douglas, moved the bill and spoke to it. He pointed out what a historic moment it was, a moment to actually have a debate on transgender issues in Parliament and that it was the first time that this issue had even been discussed within these four walls, in the House of Commons.
The member for Burnaby—Douglas, who is a tireless advocate for issues in the rainbow community and also the NDP critic on sexual orientation and gender identity policy, pointed out that while it was a historic moment in the House, his one regret was that, to our knowledge, there were no transgendered MPs in the House who could speak to this bill and provide a first voice perspective to the importance of this legislation.
I have been thinking a lot about that since we heard from the member for Burnaby—Douglas on that point. I am a queer rights activist. Since my first meeting at TBLGAY at York University in my undergrad year, I have done what I could to stand up for the rights of gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual people in Canada. I have done what I could to be an ally to the rainbow community.
However, nothing that I can say about our trans rights bill in this House could be a replacement for hearing from the lived experiences of transgendered Canadians.
I am going to use my time today to bring the voices of people, some from Halifax and others from around Canada, who contacted me about this bill.
Some of them have identified themselves to me as being transgendered, some as trans allies, and some have not identified themselves one way or another, but they have identified themselves as supporters of this bill.
They have all contacted me because they care deeply about what happens to this legislation. They care deeply about transgender and transsexual rights.
I want to share their voices with everyone in this House, so that these people have an opportunity to be heard by all MPs in this important debate.
Sandra Bornemann is a young woman with whom I have had the privilege of working with in Halifax. She works for the youth project in Halifax. We worked on some projects together. We worked on some issues together. Sandra wrote to me and said quite simply, “Trans people are often victims of discrimination, harassment and violence. They are all too often denied employment, housing, access to health care and face difficulties obtaining identification. Trans people are workers, citizens and beloved members of our families. They deserve respect, equality and protection from discrimination and violence”.
Krista McLellan wrote: “I am writing to you as a constituent to ask that you support Bill C-389 when it comes up for third reading in December and that you ask your caucus to do the same”.
Another constituent of mine wrote: “I am a resident of Halifax and am a transgendered person. While I have spent much of my career advocating for the rights of others (e.g. African Nova Scotians, persons with disabilities, new Canadians, single parents, gay, lesbian and bi) within my community, I have never been able to find the courage to identify that I am transgendered or to advocate for myself. It was only a few years ago that I disclosed to my wife and adult children that I am transgendered. Perhaps the reasons for keeping this a secret have been numerous. For example, not wanting to distract attention from the groups I worked with. Also, there was certainly fear. The fear of discrimination, loss of employment, hurt to my family and friends, etc. There was also the fear of being labelled sick, as I have heard others refer to transgendered people so many times. I have become aware of Bill C-389, an Act to Amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code and I am asking that you support this bill. As I am sure you are aware, transgendered people cover a wide range of expressions. This includes, most typically, transsexuals and crossdressers. In my case, I believe the aboriginal term “two spirited” best describes what I am (both male and female). For years I believed this was a curse, but I have come to realize it is a blessing. It has allowed me to truly achieve all I have in life and to gain a unique perspective in the world. In closing, I do hope that now you can help advocate for me and others by supporting this very important bill”.
John Ross and Rev. Warren Schell co-wrote a letter to me, and it reads: “We are writing to you today to ask you to support Bill C-389. We are very aware that transsexual and transgender people are among the most marginalized persons in our society. They often encounter great difficulty in finding places to live, employment and services”.
That was obviously an excerpt.
I would like to read another excerpt from a letter I received from Mercedes Allen, who said, “I would like to express my deepest appreciation for your support of Bill C-389 at second reading, and hope that you will continue to do so when the bill comes up for discussion and final discussion and vote on Wednesday, February 9th”.
She discusses her thoughts about the legislation and finishes her letter by saying, “Again, I thank you for your support...and all that you have done to support our community. I am not a “spokesman” for the trans community per se, but nevertheless believe I can say that your support is much appreciated by many.
I will read from another letter that I received, which states: “I am writing today to contribute my support for Bill C-389. Currently, transpeople are only protected implicitly, and often face extreme violence and discrimination. Many people live in poverty and have difficulty paying for the daily costs of living and health care. This is largely due to the discrimination and violence that they are subjugated to, including difficulty in finding employment, residence, support networks, and services. It is a testament to the strength of many transpeople who have overcome all odds to stand up for their rights. Currently, transpeople are underrepresented in governments worldwide. There have been only two openly transsexual members of Parliament in the world, Georgina Beyer (New Zealand) and Vladimir Luxuria (Italy). While a few places in the world offer explicit protections to trans people, Canada does not. I feel it is time for Canada to again become a leader in human rights and offer explicit protections for transgender, transsexual and gender-variant members of our community. I urge you and your colleagues to be a voice for members of your constituency whose protections are at stake and support Bill C-389”.
This letter was from April Friesen.
Another constituent from Halifax, Stephanie Ehler, wrote to me and stated the following: “It's an unfortunate travesty that more hasn't been done before now for the rights of persons who are transgendered. The current situation really puts the pressure on you to do all you can to make positive steps forward and you have my support and encouragement in doing so”.
Matthew McLaughlin and Susan Gapka, two utterly tireless trans rights advocates, sent me a quick update even this morning just to let me know that two studies came out just this week in the United States showing that trans people do face discrimination despite what we may hear from opponents to this bill.
They also pointed out that the areas of federal jurisdiction covered by the bill are some of the most sensitive areas where trans people are affected and where they are more likely to be harassed: banks, air travel, immigration, customs, prisons, and the list goes on. These are really important areas that we need to address.
Matt dispelled the so-called bathroom argument pretty succinctly when he said to me, “On the bathroom scare, it's pretty hypocritical considering that this has never happened in any of the more than 100 U.S. and overseas jurisdictions with protection, but washroom harassment has happened to nearly every trans person”. That is a good point.
The letters that I have shared with MPs in the House do not even come close to the number of face-to-face contacts I have had with trans people from Halifax and their allies, who thank me for our support of this bill and share with me their stories of courage, fear, bravery, anger, terror, love, hate, pride, power, and stories about themselves or people that they love. I really believe that if every MP had the opportunity to hear the stories and look people in the eye while listening to them, they would have no choice but to support this bill.