Libby Speaking out for Trans Rights

The NDP celebrated a historic vote yesterday. MP Bill Siksay’s Private Member’s Bill to amend the Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code to include gender identity and gender expression as prohibited grounds of discrimination, passed through second reading in the House of Commons.

Libby spoke to the importance of the bill in Parliament.

June 8, 2010

Ms. Libby Davies (Vancouver East, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to rise in the House today to speak in support of Bill C-389. I would like to thank the member for Burnaby—Douglas who has been an outstanding critic for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and transsexual issues for our party and in fact for all Canadians.

This is a very important bill that is before us today. Sitting here in the House as we come to the close of a very busy day where we just passed that monster budget bill, it is very good to hear some of the speeches that are taking place. I especially want to thank my colleague, the member for Laval. I know that she always speaks from her heart about the rights and dignity that all people have. It was good to hear the speech that came from the Liberal member earlier as well.

I note that the bill was seconded by 12 other members of Parliament from different parties. That is really significant. It tells us something about this bill that deals with fundamental human rights for transgender and transsexual people who have been denied rights for a very long time. When we see members across the floor supporting the bill and speaking from a personal point of view, it tells us this is something that is very powerful. We hear the stories and messages, whether they are from our own lives, or from the lives of people we know, just as we heard from the member for Laval about her own personal experience of what it means to face differences and how it is dealt with by the church, or religion, or by the system itself and how that impacts on people’s lives in sometimes a very hurtful way and sometimes even in a violent way.

I do feel very proud that we have this bill in the House and the work that has been done by the member for Burnaby—Douglas. He has held consultations across the country. He has brought this issue forward not only in our own caucus but in the queer community overall, as well as in the broader Canadian society. That is one of the good things we can do as members of Parliament. Often we are told that we do not count, that we are not part of the government, that we are not this, that we are not that. This bill is a reflection of what an individual can do in building those kinds of alliances and expression of understanding and education to actually move something like this forward and to say that there is a problem in that the Canadian Human Rights Act does not yet contain a prohibited grounds of discrimination that would protect transgender and transsexual members of our society. The bill is very important.

I have had the honour to speak recently at a couple of events. One was at a high school here in Ottawa, for Pride Day just a few weeks ago as part of Jer’s vision. It was really good to go to a local high school in Ottawa to speak to all of the grade 10 students about pride issues, about what it means to be gay or lesbian, or transgender, or transsexual, or bisexual. I have to say that a lot has changed.

When I spoke to those students in the high school I could feel that within that community there was a lot of understanding. People were more open about issues and willing to understand how people are different. At the same time there was a recognition that bullying still takes place. There are still people who are targeted. Certainly the research that is being done in Canada shows us that transgendered and transsexual people are among some of the most people at risk in our society. They face discrimination, whether it is in the workplace, whether it is in housing, whether it is in society generally. Not only are they vulnerable, but they are most vulnerable to face violence.
While on the one hand I think we can all say that we have come a long way and that rights have been enshrined and that we have made advances legally, politically and culturally, we also have to acknowledge that homophobia still exists, that discrimination still exists and that the group that is most vulnerable to this is certainly transsexuals and transgendered people.

I had a second occasion recently in my home community in Vancouver to attend an event that was organized by the Pride Education Network. It conducts a program in schools called Out in Schools. It was wonderful to see students come to a local movie theatre to watch a film that has just been produced in Vancouver called Beyond Gay–The Politics of Pride. This is a marvellous film that takes us all around the world.

A lot of members in this House have attended pride parades. The one in Toronto is coming up in July and we have ours in Vancouver in August. This film is so remarkable because it gives a history of pride parades around the world and what is taking place. Hundreds of thousands of people come out in Toronto, Vancouver and Ottawa to celebrate pride and diversity. We see this in the United States as well.

This movie takes us through not only the history of pride festivals in Canada but it also focuses on places around the world. I will mention a couple of places. In Moscow, the pride parade has been banned and organizers have faced incredible harassment. The mayor of Moscow could be seen in the film making the most outrageous, hateful comments against gay and lesbian and trans people. In Poland, armed police had to make a corridor for people who were celebrating pride to conduct their march and rally.

I was pleased to attend this movie and the discussion that followed, particularly with young people. It gave people an understanding not only of the incredible changes that have taken place in our society, but the fact that great challenges still remain.

Here in Canada we believe that we are very advanced, and we are at many levels. As was noted earlier, the Canadian Human Rights Act provides protection based on sexual orientation. Our former colleague, Svend Robinson, a member of Parliament for over 25 years, did outstanding pioneering work on this issue. His private member’s bill was brought into law to ensure that sexual orientation was protected under the Criminal Code as a hate crime.

A lot of work has been done. Those of us who have been working on this issue and are aware of what is going on in the community know that the most significant protection that has not happened is for transgendered and transsexual members of our communities.

Back in 2004 two students from Carleton University, Langdon and Boodram, undertook a survey to determine what is taking place in the trans community. Not surprisingly, they found significant levels of discrimination in housing, employment services, including unwelcome comments at work, unwelcome comments while living in accommodation, discrimination in bars, restaurants, schools, universities and colleges. Other surveys have taken place since then.

There is no question that these protections are needed. This bill needs to be brought into law. Then we need to raise the bar on education and awareness if we truly believe that we are a diverse society and that all people have the right to protection, rights and opportunities.

I hope that the bill will pass second reading and go to committee. It is important that we hear from witnesses firsthand because no trans people have spoken in the House. It is important that they be heard at committee so that their experience can be brought forward and that this bill can be passed into law.