When “Unnecessary” Means “We Don’t Wanna”

In many ways, of course, it’s not fair to compare civil rights struggles.  There are many different unique aspects to each that get lost in comparison.  And yet, there is some value in doing so, as patterns emerge, and they inform our understanding of civil rights movements as a whole.  I don’t mean to erase or be insensitive to historic and ongoing hardships when I do.

But modern society has this ongoing and irrational fear of others in the washrooms.  In the US south, decades earlier, there was reluctance to desegregate washrooms because of “delicate sensibilities” and beliefs in the inferiority and impurity of entire groups of people.  In my I-won’t-say-how-long-ago social studies class, I remember participating in a debate that drew from current events at that time about washrooms for the disabled… and whether physically challenged people “making others uncomfortable” was a valid reason for a separate designated third restroom (and although the third washroom we’re familiar with today now addresses important accessibility issues, remembering the discussions that led to them sure puts a weird and unquiet spin on them, huh?).  In the advent of HIV, there were ignorant comments about gay men in washrooms, borne by fears that had not yet been dispelled by science that AIDS could be contracted from a toilet seat.  I don’t know if it’s because we feel so particularly vulnerable when our pants are down that we forget that everyone else values their privacy just as much as we do, but the public washroom continues to be the perennial final frontier.

And every time, there was hysteria.  Every time, it was unfounded. Every time, our society ultimately moved toward progress, inclusion and accommodation, anyway.  And every time, we eventually realized looking back that the potty panic was much ado about nothing.

One of the Conservative government’s stated reasons for opposing Bill C-389, An Act to Amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and Criminal Code (gender identity and gender expression), was that it was “unnecessary.”

But it IS necessary.  It’s necessary exactly because this persists(h/t Jessica) It’s somewhat bizarre that this persists, because it’s focusing something that’s not even in Bill C-389, something that has already been legal and happening for decades.  But this bill is necessary exactly because uninformed and frightened people are arguing an unfounded and irrational argument as justification for excluding transsexual and transgender people from human rights legislation, specifically because of who they are.  Human rights legislation is exactly about addressing discriminating against people because of who they are, and this argument shows that the current state of legislation isn’t doing the job.

It’s necessary because this persists too.  Some people are so opposed to lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) people having equal rights that they will go to great lengths to invalidate those rights, and make it legal to discriminate.  Not happy with the fact that the City of Missoula passed LGBT-inclusive rights legislation, opponents went to state of Montana legislators, to find someone willing to table a bill that would prevent local governments from enacting human rights ordinances that weren’t exactly as written in state legislation.  I wrote about Missoula last year, both when the potty panic alarm was sounded and when legislators and the public ultimately saw through it and realized the ordinance needed to be passed — on a vote of 10 to 2.

“People are understandably furious this is happening,” [Montana Human Rights Network lobbyist and organizer Jamee] Greer said. “I think I’ve said this before, but there were hundreds of volunteer hours put into this campaign. People feel like something is being taken away from them.”

The proposal also raises legal concerns, according the ACLU of Montana. Public policy director Niki Zupanic said the bill has similarities to a Colorado law the U.S. Supreme Court struck down; it chips away at local control afforded by the Montana Constitution; and it would undo policies many cities instated after a 2005 decision by the Montana Supreme Court.

While the Montana legislation is somewhat different than the amendment the U.S. high court knocked down in Romer v. Evans, some of the same principles apply, Zupanic said. In that case, she said, the court ruled the state of Colorado couldn’t prohibit an entire group of people from participating in the political process because there is animosity toward that group; It singled out people who were lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.

Did a washroom incident actually occur since Missoula’s ordinance went into effect to make the public think differently?  Nope.  It’s just a case of a few loud and fringe fearmongers who “don’t wanna” let others coexist in their spaces.

Quite obviously, the desire to discriminate based on these traits rather than on individual merit exists.  Obviously, a clear and explicit statement of inclusion from the powers that be is needed.

When members of the Conservative government of Canada say that trans protections are “unnecessary,” this is a softer way of avoiding adding them to legislation, because they can’t follow the example of lone nut evangelists by openly conflating transsexual and transgender people interchangably with sexual predators.

Well, except for some folks who didn’t get the memo.

But the party line has been to say that trans protections are unnecessary because some existing legal precedents have been in favour of transsexuals. Here’s why that doesn’t stand up:

  • Precedents aren’t the same as law, and can be overturned,
  • Current precedents have varied with regard to gender expression, which is half of the bill,
  • Without explicit inclusion, both trans people and authorities have opted not to address injustices that have occurred — trans people because of defeatism and feeling alone and isolated, and authorities because it can sometimes be easier to blame the victim and / or be dismissive than add to the workload,
  • Clear statement of policy is needed for agencies both within government and elsewhere to recognize that inclusion exists.  Many companies do not have a policy on trans people, some refusing to do so because they feel they’re already in compliance with existing legislation (I related my own experience of that to Xtra),
  • Stating the scope of coverage in policy makes it understood that things like housing and access to services do matter — that there need to be more protections than those currently obtained for jobs,
  • The hate crimes inclusion is entirely new — and without it, data on hate crimes against trans people are not gathered,
  • Comprehensive protections also affirm the Nation’s commitment to equality, fairness, freedom from discrimination, and not excusing violence when the victims are part of a visible minority class.

While I’ve pointed out that explicit legal inclusion exists in over 125 or 130 jurisdictions in North America (some back to 1975), currently, in Canada, gender identity and gender expression are only specifically included in legislation in the Northwest Territories and in the City of Toronto.  So this is really not about the legislation being unnecessary.

So what are the chances of this argument being just another case of “we don’t wanna?”

It’s bizarre in this day and age that we still consider it acceptable to argue about whether any particular class should be entitled to co-existence and equality — and even jockey to deny them that by resorting to non-democratic means when opposing in democratic fora fails.  Maybe our Prime Minister should think on this before he starts lecturing other nations on human rights.

Bill C-389 will be coming up for second reading in the Senate soon. Canadian trans folks are encouraged to lobby the Senate.  Contact information and a sample letter can be found at transrights.ca It’s important that they hear your stories, understand how discrimination can and does impact our lives, and see how important it is to pass this bill.

____

(anything I’ve written on this blog with regard to Bill C-389 can be freely distributed for the sake of promoting awareness, with the only conditions being that you: 1] don’t alter it other than by quoting or excerpting, or 2] don’t claim or imply to have written it)

    • Jessica
    • February 17th, 2011

    Thank you for the hat tip : )

    The Burnaby Now published my letter and ran a rather positive editorial today. Could it be that they caught a Clue(tm)? Could it be that my letter made them think a little bit? Stranger things have happened.

    Now could it help to influence the Senate?

  1. thank you for your insite into the issues of the day mercedes. keep up the good work as i always look forward to recieving your articles.

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