Archive for the ‘ Alberta Politics ’ Category

The Difficulties in Remembering Rosa

RosaRibutIn the early morning hours of November 24th, the body of a possibly trans person was found in Edmonton, Alberta.

I say “possibly trans” because it’s unclear how this person identified, and to my knowledge, no one in the trans community has met them or would be able to shed light on who they were.  And unfortunately, for this reason, I need to open with the following preamble:

The victim has been identified by the Edmonton Police Service as Jon Syah Ribut.  However, she also used the names Rose, Rosa and Dido. In the Edmonton Journal, Paula Simons noted that  “… it’s not clear whether Ribut saw himself as transgender — or as a gay man who sometimes liked to cross-dress — or as something else altogether….” Although Simons (a journalist who is is trans-aware and trans-positive) uses male names and pronouns, it’s clear that she’s conflicted about it and knows that more information is needed.  I will be using a female name and pronouns instead, but want to stress that both Simons and I are making a guess, and either of us could just as easily be wrong.

Rosa Ribut died of blunt force trauma, and 20-year-old Marcel Cristian Niculae has been charged in her death.  There is no further information being given yet as to what happened or what the motive might have been.

Ribut, 35, was an Indonesian citizen who came to Canada in 2012 under the Temporary Foreign Worker program.  She had been working at a 7-Eleven in that capacity (presenting as male), but had also taken up working evenings as a female-presenting escort.

Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) program allows employers to bring in foreign workers and employ them for below minimum wage, with fewer regulations governing employer obligations to staff.  Temporary foreign workers are not eligible for public health care coverage or other social programs, and lose their residency if they quit their jobs, the net result of which is a more vulnerable and dependent workforce.  While there is no indication that the TFW program was used to bring her to Canada for sex work, a temporary worker employed at a 7-Eleven convenience store wouldn’t have had it very easy making ends meet on that income alone.

Ribut was from Indonesia, where “warias” (often characterized as males born with female souls — it’s not known if Ribut identified in this way) had once been traditionally respected.  However, trans people in Indonesia have been increasingly ostracized and have also faced challenges to their legal status over the years.  More recently, trans women have been targeted by vice raids that conflate trans people with sex workers, regardless of whether they are or not. In some parts of the country, the Muslim group Islam Defenders Front (FPI) have waged a cultural campaign against trans people, intimidating advocates and forcing the closure of trans and LGBT functions, while the National Police have been reluctant to intervene.

While it’s possible that Rosa Ribut was targeted for violence because of her gender, certainly the marginalization that sex workers experience made her vulnerable to the attack, and her escorting work is thought to be a contributing factor to the events of her murder.  December 17th is the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, and the murder of Rosa Ribut is a tragic reminder of the brutality that sex workers sometimes face.  Trans people have a similar memorial in November of every year, but it should also be recognized how people of intersecting minority characteristics (trans status, sex work, race and / or the poverty-classed) can experience a disproportionately high amount of hatred, violence and risk.

Little about Rosa is known, other than details culled from her Facebook page (now offline).  According to the Edmonton Journal:

“His friends called him Rosa or Rose or Dido. For them, he posted pictures of himself enjoying the Edmonton winter — frolicking in the snow at the legislature grounds, shopping on trendy 104th Street. People tend to curate their Facebook pages to put the happiest gloss on our lives. But certainly, nothing in Ribut’s Facebook timeline suggests he was in Edmonton under duress. He joked online that he was a snow princess, who’d come here to find his snow prince…”

More details will likely follow in the coming months.

Leaving High River

On September 20th, 2013, we started moving into our new home.  It was further away from Calgary (where I work), making for a longer commute.  But the home was dry, and it was ours. We were exceedingly lucky.

Three months from the day that my partner and I were first evacuated, we were leaving High River.

Most of the news that people will hear will focus on the numbers, now.  Insured damage has topped $1.7 Billion, making the flooding throughout southern Alberta the costliest natural disaster in Canadian history.  Even that ignores the fact that the most widespread of the damage (overland flooding) is not covered by insurance plans in Canada… something that has resulted in many fights with insurers over just how much damage is the result of sewer backup or other insured aspects.  Unsurprisingly, the insurance industry is already telling Albertans to brace for a 30% hike in rates.  Meanwhile, many High Riverites — and throughout Southern Alberta (the nearby Siksika Nation reserve was also particularly hard-hit) — struggle to find options.

But there we are, detoured by the numbers again.  It’s the only way we have to measure the scale of what occurred.  Otherwise, we’re helpless to the randomness and madness of it all.  While non-residents seem to have the impression that the entire town was built on a floodplain, the expected flood zone actually accounts for very little of the community… something that is factoring significantly in the conflicts between the Province and inland residents who are finding themselves ineligible for the long-promised relief funding.  While it’s true that the entire town was flooded and evacuated, the reason it did may be more mishap than anything, and probably will be the stuff of lawsuits for the next decade.

As we were moving into our home in another town, a number of High Riverites were also just returning to theirs, in the hardest-hit part of the town.  Others were still living in the trailers set up in various places, while their homes could be restored to habitability. Much of High River’s downtown core is patched up but left dark, with no certainty of whether some of those businesses will ever return.

In nearby Calgary, the volunteer thanking and patting on the back has grown so old that residents are starting to sound almost tediously annoyed when reminded that people remain displaced since the June calamity.  “Isn’t that all over, yet?”

“Isn’t it over, yet?”

It seemed to take forever.

When the flooding first hit, High Riverites were being told to check the town website, to listen to the local radio station, or to follow the Facebook and Twitter feeds. But the town website was offline, and the local radio stations were reduced to dead air. The feeds weren’t being updated. A Calgary station reported that a woman had been washed away from a trailer in Black Diamond. And boats from an RV sales centre were being sighted miles downstream. And the Town of Bragg Creek was underwater. My partner rushed home to gather our shih-tzu and an overnight bag, just in case.  One minute, everything was dry; the next, she was driving out of our community with water up to the bottom of her car door.

There was a severe lack of information in the beginning, and then when updates finally came, they arrived with some tempers and occasional snark.  It was five days before we were able to see aerial photos of the flooding mess, which had inexplicably reached every building in town, including areas that we had previously been certain were too far from the river or too elevated to be in any danger.  But all prior expectations were rendered moot. As someone who had previously researched the worst flooding of the Town’s pre-2005 known history — in the 1910s, which resulted in water a foot deep at the Wales Theatre — it seemed surreal to look at photos now of our local 7-11 submerged almost up to its awning.

The debates are fierce, now, about whether the canal system that had been designed to withstand a 1-in-100 flood like the Town experienced in 2005 actually helped spread the water everywhere, or whether a decision to divert some of the flood waters into what ultimately became the hardest-hit neighbourhood (despite its distance from the river) was a decision (as one engineer called it) to sacrifice that community.  But back then, we didn’t even know enough to base a guess on.

We understood that there was mess and risk, yet the Town seemed to want to go to the overprotective extreme, to have roads completely cleared and utilities, water, sewage disposal, sewage treatment, power, phones, protective services, fencing for “high-risk areas,” and medical centre all fully-functional, and a “welcome centre” in operation, before we were going to be allowed back. Even the most pragmatic of us had to fight the impulse to kick ourselves for not ignoring the evacuation order.  The risk and chaos of living in a houseboat on Lake High River almost seemed like a preferable course of action.

Equally perplexing was the way that during the evacuation, skilled and experienced contractors were being turned away, only to later see the entire recovery and cleanup effort turned over exclusively to a predominantly energy-focused company, before the public really knew that there was a bidding process.  But that came later.

The Town enlisted the Canadian Armed Forces to protect the flood-damaged township from its citizens.  Yet most of the military presence was gone before we were even allowed to see our homes or know the state secret of what was left.  It was a week and a half before residents of select areas were being allowed back in to view their homes — wealthy areas first, it seemed — and secure their things.  My fiancee and I were allowed in at the two-week mark, and arrived to find our window smashed in, so that it could have been easily accessed for nearly a week by the volunteers already allowed into ground zero.

In some media outlets, you’d almost think that the most important story in all of the mess was the RCMP entering of homes and seizing unsecured firearms, rather than the enormous expanse of lake which nearly a month later still sat where the eastern third of a town had been.  Even that little aspect of the flooding gets engineered: you don’t hear from the animal rescue efforts or from residents upset about their belongings left unattended or from homeowners whose firearms weren’t seized. The entire southern Alberta flood has been distilled into a rallying cry for insecure gun nuts.

Of course, you can’t talk about global warming.  That would be politically exploitative and crazy.

There’s a perception that Albertans are among the most stubborn of the climate change deniers. Yet, there weren’t very many skeptics milling about outside the Nanton evacuation centre… although the acknowledgement is sometimes made by subsuming things into a biblical paradigm of end-times scriptures about “earthquakes in diverse places.”  Even so, if there was one thing that people in southern Alberta shared, it was a realization that something had changed.  High River and many other towns had already seen a “1-in-100″ flood, in recent memory (2005).  This was different.

And as we waited to return home, it was not lost on people that a record heat wave stretched across the western half of North America, with heat-enhanced fires claiming the lives of 19 highly-skilled firefighters.  Flash sleet mixed with slush (called “hail” on the news, but we could see for ourselves what it was) struck Alberta in July, a monsoon hit Uttarakhand, India, record flash flooding struck Toronto, and now Colorado has experienced something eerily reminiscent of June 20th and 21st.  Bad weather happens.  But greater extremes, greater unpredictability, greater frequency, and greater consequences… that’s unmistakably different.  Especially when we know the magnitude of what we experienced:

When a low pressure system from the Pacific reached Alberta, that parked high pressure cell kept the low pressure backed up against the foothills, dropping rain across much of central and southern Alberta for much longer than expected. Many locations across southern Alberta received as much rain in 18 hours as they would normally receive in two months. Since some snow still remained in the mountains, there was also a rain-on-snow event that added even more water into the creeks and rivers.

From my own perspective, I don’t know how we can know what we do about CFCs, lead, mercury, sarin gas, carcinogens, forms of toxicity, the steps needed to prevent or control chemical leaching, and not think that what we do in industry can have lasting effects on our ecosystems.  Or why we would not feel an obligation to do what we can to be responsible stewards of the world we love.

The Town of High River is a weird little idyll in the Alberta Southwest.  It’s remote enough to feel like a retreat, but urban enough to feel luxurious.  Situated where the prairies begin to fade into foothills, with the Rocky Mountains waiting inspiringly in the near distance, it’s almost an epicentre of rustic western Canadiana.  It’s only a little over an hour into Kananaskis, to the mountains, to the rugged Porcupine Hills, to urban Calgary, to Aboriginal historic sites like Blackfoot Crossing or Head-Smashed-In-Buffalo-Jump, to picturesque Banff and Canmore, not quite two hours to the Drumheller badlands, to some of Alberta’s rare patches of near-desert, just a little further into Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, to Waterton Lakes or to the Writing-On-Stone heritage site.  It took something like eight day-trips just to see the most notable filming locations for Brokeback Mountain.  It’s easy to see why series like Heartland would be filmed here, and why the first Mantracker would be a High Riverite.

It seems strange to leave, and also concerning about what the town is likely to become.  Largely untouched by box-stores and big brand retailers (other than fast-food locations), that’s sure to change, as many independent businesses are likely to not rebuild, while larger retailers will probably take interested in rebuilding incentives, and council are not likely to be as choosy.  It’s disaster capitalism on a micro- scale.  The spark of the town is gone.  It seems better to leave entirely than to sit in the midst of the dank and dark that has stained everything.  We feel guilty, overly-privileged, and more than a little resentful of the day everything changed.

On the morning of June 20th, we expected that people would start sandbagging in the morning, and we’d head over to wherever we might be needed, in the evening — probably the floodplain areas.  By then, people would be getting tired, and we could give them some rest, bring coffee, or provide whatever support was needed. We weren’t worried: we’d seen what we’d been told would be the worst, in 2005.  Even so, the morning seemed a little surreal as I left for work in Calgary, and had to struggle to get onto the main road, for all the bumper-to-bumper traffic.

We never thought we’d be leaving High River forever.

Defining human rights.

Next week or in the week following, Canada’s Parliamentary Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights (JUST) will be reviewing the trans human rights Bill C-279, to approve or amend it before deciding whether to forward it on to Third Reading.

Following federal Member of Parliament Rob Anders’ disastrous attempt to lobby Canadians against the bill by conflating trans people with sexual predators, Conservative MPs have appear to have become more careful about their approach to opposing the bill.  Brent Rathgeber recently blogged that “These are complicated and sensitive matters and my opposition to this Bill is based entirely upon legal analysis, not on any particular bias.”

Like I said, more careful.  His main point:

The flaw in Bill C-279 is that the terms “gender identity” and “gender expression” are not defined.

The “undefined” argument was used in the previous attempt to pass human rights inclusion for trans people.  That bill passed, but died awaiting review by the Senate when 2011 last federal election was called.  At that time, the lack-of-clarity argument was paired with the idea that explicit inclusion was unnecessary (something that Rathgeber touches on also), based on the fact that most legal precedents have tended to support transsexual people, and that Canadian human rights commissions consider us to be a subcategory of sex and/or gender.  But precedents can be overturned if there are enough people with a will to do so. The bathroom fearmongering put forward by Anders and a few other MPs, along with far-right leaders such as Charles McVety and Jim Hughes, demonstrates clearly that such a will exists, and it is rather intense.  In light of the persistent will of powerful people to work actively against trans inclusion, “unnecessary” has become an unbelievable argument.

So Rathgeber is focusing on complaining that the terms “gender identity” and “gender expression” are undefined.  Never mind that he more or less defined them in his own blog post without a problem.  Never mind that none of the other terms in human rights legislation are defined.  Never mind that human rights classes are by intention open-ended, and meant to apply to people on all sides of the equation.  Never mind that one of them (“gender identity”) has been in use in medical arenas since the late 1960s and in legal ones since the 1980s, and that the other is relatively self-explanatory.  Never mind that once you start defining terms specifically, you risk carving out areas where people can fall through the cracks in a way that excludes people from human rights protections (which defeats the whole purpose of all people being considered equal).

Because you wouldn’t want the right to live, be employed, access services and be free from discrimination to be given to just anybody.

We don’t define classes to exclude.  We wouldn’t, for example, define disability in a way that excludes psychiatric conditions, under the pretext that doing so would be scary.  And in return, including those in human rights law does not confer a get-out-of-jail-free card if an individual commits an illegal act — although it might be taken into consideration when the court hears the context of a particular case.

Even more telling is Rathgeber’s next jump, to say that the terms shouldn’t be included in legislation because they’re chosen traits, rather than inborn.  He doesn’t use that phraseology, though, because the public is starting to realize that there is much more of an inherent nature to gender identity (and sexual orientation, for that matter) than people who are fundamentally opposed to the existence of trans people would like to admit.  No, he uses the argument that gender identity and gender expression are not “ascriptive” (i.e. inborn, not earned, not chosen) traits, and that protecting chosen traits somehow violates the spirit of human rights legislation.  Then he shoots his own argument down in the next breath (emphasis mine):

But a more philosophical objection to the Bill is the attempt to expand “Human Rights Code” Protection beyond the traditional ascriptive criteria.  Generally, the Code’s aim is to protect characteristics that are ascriptive rather than chosen.  These are matters defined by birth and/or over which one has no control: race, national or ethnic origin, colour, age, sex, sexual orientation and disability all fall neatly into the category of ascriptive criteria.  Admittedly, “religion, marital status, family status and pardoned conviction” are tricky because one does have considerable control over all of these matters…

I’m not big on the “born this way” argument.  I think that people should be judged by what we do rather than what we are or are seen to be.  But I do know that I didn’t just wake up one morning and decide that risking alienating my friends, family, job, anonymity and ability to travel with ease in society would be a fun thing to do.  I spent most of my life hiding and fighting who I was, and then finally accepted myself as a woman.  The only aspect of that struggle that I had any significant degree of control over was in deciding the moment that I stopped fighting it, and whether that end-to-struggle came in the form of transition or emotional collapse.  In terms of “gender identity,” painting transsexuality as “choice” is something that doesn’t ring true to the experiences of transsexed individuals.

But that’s besides the point.  The basic principle of human rights is that people should not be unduly judged by who they are, but rather on their individual merits or faults.  That is why we do include descriptive criteria such as religion, family status and pardoned conviction.  Indeed, individuals’ actions would appear to be the dividing line between pardoned conviction and any conviction, and shed light on why we would make such a distinction.  Even if gender expression is a choice, mere expression is still a problematic basis for casting judgement on a person, and reveals nothing conclusive about an individual’s actions or behaviour.

The fear of including trans people in human rights legislation is often rooted in a fear of rights conflicting with rights.  Very often, the examples given can be boiled down to a false equivalence — of one’s right to live, work or access services infringing on another’s right to deny them exactly that.  But on occasion, rights do genuinely conflict, and Canadian human rights legislation already provides a mechanism by which conflicting rights are balanced.  Rights are granted up to the limit of undue hardship.  This has allowed courts to consider cases in context, considering the balanced needs of both parties, and addressing when there is an actual harm.

There is a case that was recently filed with the Ontario Human Rights Commission after a woman was denied a haircut by a Toronto barber shop because of her gender.  The stylists explained that their faith forbids them from cutting a woman’s hair (unless she’s a spouse).  This is a genuine conflict of rights, and at that point needs to be assessed for context, to  determine which party is potentially faced with the greater harm (and if there are other remedies available, which is one of the strengths of a human rights commission).  It’s important that the legal system be able to take that context into account, rather than to try to pre-emptively define classes in a way that creates a rigid hierarchy of rights.  Terms in law may be defined, but classes in human rights legislation are typically left open-ended and non-specific deliberately, so that the courts can take context into account.

Rathgeber’s choice of terminology in his argument is interesting, though. Usually, when I hear opposition to trans human rights protections, I can point to where those arguments have been made before, where they failed, and what the intent was behind those arguments.  Rathgeber’s argument is unique in that respect.  Almost.

The only person who typically uses “ascriptive vs. descriptive” terminology to invalidate trans people on any kind of regular basis is Paul McHugh, a former Director of Psychology at the Johns Hopkins Medical Center, in Maryland.  McHugh’s expertise has been neuropsychology, the study of neurological factors affecting behaviour.  McHugh doesn’t appear to have had any background on trans patients prior to closing the Johns Hopkins gender clinic in 1979, and essentially admits in his article, “Psychiatric Misadventures,” that he accepted his post at Johns Hopkins partly so he could close that clinic, due to McHugh’s own pre-existing biases, assumptions (which he then proceeds to expound upon) and moral indignation at its existence.

McHugh also made the same argument in the court case spawned by California’s Proposition 8, against same-sex marriage.  He also elaborated this to say that because no consistent definition of sexual orientation exists, it is also too scary a concept to justify the extension of human rights protections to gays and lesbians.  So it’s probably noteworthy that Rathgeber includes sexual orientation in his list of ascriptive criteria.  As a society, Canada has come to clearly recognize that there is more to sexual orientation than whim.  All indications are that the nation is doing the same regarding trans people, and that the “ascriptive vs. descriptive” argument is simply an outmoded way of thinking — but one that even a conscientious legislator might still at times see as justification for denying human rights inclusion.  Again, the fact that such a denial might occur demonstrates the necessity of explicit human rights inclusion.

As carefully reasoned as the argument may appear to be, it falls apart at several points.

In fact, the whole fear of vagueness is reminiscent of far-right groups who fret that the existence of trans people might redefine gender.  Yet trans people exist nonetheless.  It’s all again reminiscent of the same-sex marriage battle, which happened here and is still taking place south of our border.  Those arguments were that marriage might be redefined if we let gay men and lesbians do it, and yet it was never adequately explained how doing so might damage or implode the institution of marriage.

But what is notable is that Brent Rathgeber is a member of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights (JUST), which will be hearing and amending the bill.  He and Stephen Woodworth were the “no” votes when JUST heard the same bill in the previous session of Parliament, although the bill did pass through JUST and Parliament without changes.

I don’t know what Mr. Rathgeber’s motives are in writing his editorial, and I don’t want to project assumptions on him. But it is disappointing that someone who should have a deeper understanding of the bill would still not be able to better explain why he considers it scary or dangerous.  Being careful apparently doesn’t help one clearly make one’s point.

That’s why it’s refreshing in contrast, when people who are clearly transphobic, using terms like “deviant behaviour” and “sexually confused” without reservation, still openly acknowledge what the bill will do, and explain why it frightens them.  From a June 5th press release from REAL Women of Canada:

“Please ASAP fax, email or phone your MP to ask that he or she oppose Bill C-279, with or without amendments. The major effect of this bill is that transgendered, transsexual and sexually confused individuals will be given full protection re employment, services, housing, etc in public institutions under federal jurisdiction. These behaviors will be “normalized”, accepted and protected…”

The fear is that with explicit protections, trans people might eventually become overtly accepted in Canadian society, and integrate into the social fabric. Because you wouldn’t want the ability to live, be employed, access services and be free from discrimination to be given to just anybody.

REAL does understand that much at least, and considers that a scary concept.

So what consequences frighten Mr. Rathgeber?

(Crossposted to Rabble.ca)

MP’s trans predator fearmongering escalates.

On Friday, Sun News commentator Brian Lilley interviewed Rob Anders, the Member of Parliament who has drawn condemnation for conflating transsexual and transgender people with sexual predators in a petition he has been circulating on his website, and to at least one church in his riding. In “Children’s bathroom bill reaches Parliament Hill,” both doubled down on conflating trans people with sexual predators, and suggested that granting human rights inclusion will somehow enable and legally absolve predatory acts.  Anders claims there is “all sorts of examples of this going on.”  Which is news to anybody else.

Lilley introduced the interview by once again calling for the defunding and privatization of CBC, the network which first broke the Anders story, and which Lilley has tried to portray as ludicrous for taking note of the petition.  During this time, though, Lilley has also been taking note of a Toronto District School Board (TDSB) policy that accommodates trans kids.  Like fellow Sun News Network commentators Michael Coren and Faith Goldy, he’s made that all about washrooms.  While discussing the TDSB policy with Anders, they arrive at this exchange:

LILLEY: We are going and changing all kinds of things that… I agree with you, could put people at risk of being exposed to perverts to fix something that is, what, one percent of one percent of one percent of a subset of a subset?

ANDERS: Yeah.  You know, why would we lower peoples’ natural defenses of a man going into a woman’s bathroom in order to “accommodate” [scare quotes added because at this, Anders appears to grin mockingly or suggestively]  this very very small, you know, part of the population.  In order to expose all sorts of women and girls to this…?

At that point, Rob Anders relates a phone call that told an anecdotal story of a crossdressed peeping tom who allegedly peered over stalls in the Canterra building in downtown Calgary four years ago.  Searching various media online, there appears to be no corroboration that it even occurred, let alone that it happened as related.  The network sensationalistically underscores this story with staged photos that are supposed to be representative of trans people in restrooms, including one featuring a urinal covered in police tape, and another showing someone with a long wig and a dress standing at a urinal.  Or at least I’m assuming they’re staged, because it would be concerning if someone is snapping candids in washrooms.

At an earlier point in this interview, Brian Lilley also points to one of the men accused of chaining and abusing a Nova Scotia teen — the attacker was said to have occasionally dressed in womens’ clothing.

Most Canadians either don’t know someone who is transsexual or transgender, or else aren’t aware that an acquaintance is trans (and given my experience as a community advocate, I suspect it’s more often the latter).  For this reason, Anders and Lilley float these examples as being representative of all trans people, and as justification for excluding those entire characteristic classes from basic human rights protections.

LILLEY: “Then he’s free and clear.”

Enter Bill C-279, An Act to Amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code (Gender Identity and Gender Expression), which is a human rights bill addressing employment, housing, access to services and discrimination.

The bill says nothing about washrooms, which Lilley briefly acknowledges before calling washrooms a side effect of the bill, and then continuing to focus on them at the expense of all else.  C-279 also wouldn’t change the fact that trans people have already been using washrooms appropriate to their gender identity for decades.  But it’s at this point that Lilley and Anders claim that the bill would somehow essentially absolve the people in their examples of any culpability for their actions.

ANDERS: “Then he’s free and clear, that’s right.”

Readers are invited to find any example in which rape, molestation and other illegal and inappropriate behaviours were suddenly excused because the perpetrator was a member of a class listed in human rights legislation.  As equal human beings, we are all still responsible for behaving ethically and respectfully toward our fellow human beings, and to face the legal consequences if we don’t.

We also don’t exclude entire groups of people from public washrooms (let alone human rights) on the off-chance that one of them might be a sexual predator.

When I wrote about the history of the “Bathroom Bill” meme, one thing I didn’t mention is how opponents of trans rights initiatives tended to conflate trans people with predators, and then when called on it, would habitually backtrack to say it wasn’t trans people they were worried about, but that they thought trans-inclusive legislation could provide cover for actual predators to commit acts of sexual predation.  And then they’d go on talking about “transgenders” with hairy legs and skirts stalking children and doing unmentionable things in washroom stalls, as a reason to block human rights legislation.

But with the way Lilley’s interview is presented, there’s visibly no effort at all to make any kind of distinction.

And all of this, of course, completely overlooks the dangers to safety of going the opposite direction and forcing transsexual women to use a men’s room.  Or whether women would be happy having trans men in theirs.

Which brings us to Brian Lilley’s bottom line:

LILLEY: “Why do we have all these groups mentioned to get special treatment in the Human Rights Act, in the Criminal Code?  I thought we believed in treat all people equally and fairly in this country.  And why don’t we just get rid of all this nonsense and say all people are equal above and beyond [sic] before the law?”

Overlooking the fact that you just referred to equality as “special treatment,” Mr. Lilley, it is most likely because there is ample evidence that there are clearly bigoted attitudes and beliefs about entire groups of people, conflating them with abhorrent actions and behaviours — even to the point of circulating petitions, making comments on the floor of the House of Commons, and reporting them on television as fact — in ways that make discrimination against those groups likely or even inevitable.

Sun Media’s Brian Lilley interviews Rob Anders

(Crossposted to Rabble.ca)

The Mask of Gender

Normally, I’m not one to promote something if I’m in it.  That kind of thing is horribly self-aggrandizing.  So I’ll apologize right off for doing that here.

But given the recent focus on trans issues due to the comments made by Rob Anders, I thought it would be a good moment to give average Canadians a chance to get to know a little bit about trans people, and why clear human rights inclusion is necessary.  This is a documentary that was put together last year, and features people in Calgary and the greater Calgary area.  It’s called The Mask of Gender (link is to the producer’s website):

There’s only so much that can be covered in a short 16-minute documentary, of course.  For example, from just my own experiences, the film understandably doesn’t go into the complicated details about why I accepted unreasonable conditions to return to the paint store job after my transition (hint: one of the big reasons had to do with the prospect of losing 19 years’ employment to a name change). So there are a lot of layers below the surface one could explore.

But it is an introduction, nevertheless, and of real Calgarians.

Rob Anders, the transsexual bogeyman, and the weird phenomenon of MPs petitioning their constituents.

Rob Anders is on a mission.  Hot on the heels of having to halfway apologize for alleging that NDP leader Thomas Mulcair drove former NDP leader Jack Layton to his grave, Anders is now sending at least one church (possibly more) a letter asking them to petition MPs to oppose Bill C-279, which would (in its current form) extend human rights protections to transsexual and transgender people.  You’d almost think he needs an easy deflection, and trans people are the punching bag du jour.

It must be important, too.  For a Member of Parliament who has gained a reputation for falling asleep during Question Period in the House of Commons, allegedly napping through presentations about homeless veterans, and about whom fellow MPs have stated that “It’s a regular occurrence… I sit across from him when we meet in Ottawa and I’ve seen his neighbours poke him awake sometimes,” this must be pretty urgent, attention-getting stuff. After all, he’s staying focused on this one.

In his original letter, he raises the alarm:

“That Bill C-279, also known as the “Bathroom Bill”, is a Private Members Bill sponsored by B.C. NDP MP Randall Garrison and its goal is to give transgendered men access to women’s public washroom facilities.

“And that it is the duty of the House of Commons to protect and safeguard our children from any exposure and harm that will come from giving a man access to women’s public washroom facilities.”

Ah, he wants to protect women.  Hence his vote in support of M-312, which hoped to make government an arbiter of what reproductive health decisions women are allowed to make.  How chivalrous.

The Calgary West MP has stirred up controversy before, sending Canadian troops a Christmas message which read, “when in doubt, pull the trigger.”  He also made international news when he called Nelson Mandela a terrorist.  In 2010, 19 members of Anders’ riding association quit citing interference from the Conservative Party, with another 5 of the 32-member board following in the days afterward.

I’ve written before about washroom panic, and the historic use of this non-existent epidemic (considering that we’ve used public restrooms for as long as we’ve existed, and not seen any statistically notable number of instances of predation) to oppose all basic human rights inclusion for trans people, and have to admit that Anders’ comments pale in comparison (probably only because of brevity) to the rant that Niagara West-Glanbrook MP Dean Allison delivered right on the floor of the House of Commons this past April:

I find this potentially legitimized access for men in girls’ bathrooms to be very disconcerting. As sexual predators are statistically almost always men, imagine the trauma that a young girl would face, going into a washroom or a change room at a public pool and finding a man there. It is unconscionable for any legislator, purposefully or just neglectfully, to place her in such a compromising position.

Still, Anders is careful to make his talking points look original, although they are really not that different from Allison’s, the panic letters previously sent from LifeSiteNews, rants by Charles McVety, or the letter sent by MP Maurice Vellacott to his fellow MPs when the predecessor of this bill, Bill C-389, trekked through the previous session of Parliament, forwarding comments from a “constituent” who turned out to be Jim Hughes of the Campaign Life Coalition.  Or the editorial written by MP Blake Richards in the Rocky View Weekly as C-389 proceeded to Third Reading.  That bill passed, but died awaiting ratification by the Senate, when the election was called.

Rise and shine, SunTV

Anders’ comments also come as Sun News Network commentators Michael Coren and Faith Goldy are reacting negatively to the Toronto District School Board’s introduction of a policy that will allow trans students to use washrooms that are appropriate to their gender identity — even the Toronto Sun implies that trans identity is whim by phrasing it as using “whichever washroom they wish.”  The TDSB ruling is in response to a 2011 ruling by the Ontario Human Rights Commission, and addresses accommodating trans kids (something badly needed), but like Anders, Coren and Goldy fixate on potty panic.  Transcribed by the Huffington Post:

“Goldy was quick to make the issue personal. ‘I cannot but help but bring this story back to my 5-year-old god-daughter and the fact that when she goes to the bathroom by herself who knows what kind of creepo is now fully permitted, he has the right now, to be standing in that bathroom and doing God knows what,’ the reporter said.”

“Who knows what” is probably peeing, and trans people value their privacy during that as much as any other Canadian, thank you very much.

Goldy, like Anders, deliberately misgenders female-identified trans people.  We know that Anders isn’t referring to anyone else when he is petitioning about “transgendered [sic] men” because the trans men I know would generally not be wanting to use the womens’ room anyway.  Granted, womens’ restrooms tend to be cleaner, but those beards might raise questions.

I’ve seen that kind of deliberate misgendering a lot, and typically the objective is to portray trans people as being deluded at best or else outright fraudulent.  But when this kind of intentional disrespect comes from politicians and media figures, it especially needs to be challenged.

“I’m petitioning you to petition me…”

Although Anders’ comments are obviously not new, it signals a growing trend when Conservative MPs start actively lobbying their constituents to lobby them for petition signatures.  This is reminiscent of Jason Kenney’s recent letter to congratulate himself on his efforts as a champion of LGBT human rights, and his previous petition to petition his constituents to petition him to thank him for petitioning them to thank him (or something) on his valiant initiative to deny health care to immigrants.  With Anders, Vellacott, Allison et al actively stirring up fears of an imaginary transsexual bogeymonster in order to defeat human rights legislation, it signals a disturbing trend among legislators — in these cases, Conservatives — by attempting to manipulate the public conversation and skew public input in a way that would appear to support their personal agendas.

Which brings me back to a point I’ve made before, and made often:

Human rights protections are necessary exactly because this irrational fear persists.  It’s necessary exactly because trans people still get conflated with sex predators and child predators, or labeled as “sick,” “perverse,” and “freaks.”  It’s necessary exactly because people become so clouded with assumptions and myths that they argue for our deliberate exclusion from human rights under the pretext that granting them would be “dangerous” or “scary.” It’s necessary exactly because this bias is so entrenched that people think nothing about broadcasting it openly as though fact.  It’s necessary exactly because this “ick factor” response is seen as justification for not allowing an entire group of people to share the same space, to terminate their employment or to evict them.  It’s necessary exactly because it is so pervasive that discrimination becomes not only likely but inevitable — especially if there is no explicit direction in law to the contrary on the matter.

And especially if that irrational meme is so prevalent that it’s being loudly and embarrassingly parroted by legislators.

The sponsor of Bill C-279, Randall Garrison, has responded to Anders’ petition, saying that “what’s most offensive about his petition is that he equates transgendered people with sex offenders and pedophiles.  This petition is obviously based on ignorance, misinformation and fear, but that’s unfortunately what we’ve come to expect from Mr. Anders.”

Rob Anders, however, has been not responding to requests for comment.  Maybe he’s nodding off, after all.

(Crossposted to Rabble.ca)

Guest Post – Chevi Rabbit: From HATE to HOPE

(On Thursday July 23rd, Chevi Rabbit was attacked by three men yelling homophobic slurs, near Edmonton’s University of Alberta campus, in what is being investigated as a hate crime.  Following the attack, a march was organized to signal that hatred is not welcome in Edmonton, and over 200 residents came out to show support, including Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk and former alderman Michael Phair.  I invited Chevi Rabbit to write about what happened here, both the attack and the rally that followed — M)

Hello Everyone, My name is Chevi Rabbit. Here s a little background on who I am. I was born and raised in central Alberta. I grew up on a small acreage near the town of Ponoka. I am of Cree and French heritage with a little bit of Ukrainian as well, this is a very Canadian history, to be of mixed heritage, Especially of North American Indian and European! Very Canadian and is very unique as well, something to be proud of. After high school, I decided to attend Red Deer College for Hospitality and Tourism Management. I had a wonderful two years and made so many long lasting friendships. During this time, I took evening classes at Marvel College for Makeup Artistry. I have always been very creative and artistic. One of my favorite hobbies is fine art painting, photography and makeup artistry. During my final year at Red Deer College I came to the conclusion that I need to get my degree!

I’m now in my final year at the University of Alberta, I will gradate with a Degree in Native Studies and Anthropology. My successful side job has been working in the cosmetic industry — not only do I freelance, but I have also worked for Murale, NARS Cosmetics and now Yves Saint Laurent & Giorgio Armani. I’m very passionate about art in general! I love how I can paint a face and the individual transforms not only in appearance but in confidence as well! They light up and I can tell that they feel great about and they are happy! That is the best part of my job as a makeup artist! It very rewarding! I started wearing makeup in my mid teens, It was like art! It’s a fun way to express myself and who I was at the time! I have worn makeup almost every day, with the occasional break; my skin needs to breathe every now and then!

On July 19, I was walking from my dorm house near the University of Alberta campus to Safeway, which were only a few blocks away. Then suddenly at the corner of 110st and 84avenue three men pulled up on a car and began yelling “You’re a faggot! A fucking faggot, you’re a fag”. The area was heavily populated; there was large group of people playing volleyball, joggers, and other residence going about their every day. I was shocked what was happening! Especially considering my neighborhood! It is a nicer part of the city! I was sure what to do, so I replied “Thank You” and walked away! I was so embarrassed because I knew everyone one could hear what they were saying, too! I made it halfway down the street and I was texting my friend about the incident, I did not realize that one of the men had gotten out of the car and came up behind me, put my in a head lock and threw me to the ground! I was stunned and shocked! He ran away quickly with my iPhone, but a group of witnesses saw what happened and intercepted! They chased them away and took down the license plate and descriptions! One of them replied “I am so sorry that happened to you”, they were so kind and helpful! One of them called the police and within 20 minutes 3 police cruisers arrived! One of the police loaned me his cell to call my mom! I was trying not to cry through the entire ordeal, but as soon as I heard my moms’ voice, I could hold it in anymore! I cried so hard! I told my mom that I was attacked because I’m gay and they were calling me a faggot and stole my phone. She started crying and said she was leaving from Ponoka to Edmonton to come see me.

After my verbal attack/assault/ robbery, I started to doubt if I should wear makeup, if I should be less visibly gay? I have always stayed true to myself. I consider myself very androgynous and obviously very feminine, but I am comfortable with myself as a feminine gay man! I have always been very comfortable with my sexuality. I credit this to my mother, who is such a strong, brave and kind soul. She was very accepting when I came out at a very young age. My family and community are very accepting! I do believe that if your child is gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, a parent needs to accept them for who they are and love them, so they will not any identity issues! So that they can move past the topic of sexuality, gender roles, and grow comfortable being their unique self! And live a healthy normal lifestyle! Find love, a career; family and most importantly make memorable memories.

I was going to remain silent about what happened to me as I was so embarrassed! But a good friend said, “This isn’t right, it not fair! You need to say something, speak up”. So I spoke to the Edmonton Sun about my ordeal and shared my story. The story spread like wildfire. I think why it spread so quickly, is because it’s not just my story, but also a shared story among many gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. That many of us at some point in time have been victimized by hate! That we were bullied because of our differences! That our uniqueness was some how a threat to certain groups of people! The media shared a story to the public and many people felt sympathy towards, because at the core of our human souls, we understand that everyone want love and acceptance.

With the help of friends, we organized a rally and march in response! Creating a Facebook page called “NOH8 Taking Back Greater Edmonton. I wanted the public to know that hate will not be tolerated. Here is a description of the very successful event! We had great response and hundreds of people showed up! I have received so much email from supports asking me not to change and to continue to wear makeup! I promised I wont change and I will continue to wear fabulous makeup!

August 2nd, 2012 at 6pm

“After the recent alleged hate crime attack on Chevi Rabbitt, University of Alberta Student and Professional Make up Artist, we have decided to hold a march and rally to show that hate crimes like this one will not be tolerated in Edmonton. Please come out and show your support for equality and safety in Edmonton. We encourage you to wear purple. We will start the march at the scene of the attack at 110 Street and 84 Avenue we will then march Through Campus (holding hands with a person of the same sex) to the Alberta Legislator Building where we will have a rally with prominent list of speakers.

List of Speakers and performer:
1. Alberta Deputy Premier, Thomas Lukaszuk
2. Director of Community Relations at University of Alberta, Michael Phair
3. NDP candidate for Calgary-Klein, Marc Powers
4. Aboriginal Federal NDP Candiate for Edmonton Centre, Lewis Cardinal
5. United Church, Gary Simpson
6. MLA for Edmonton Beverly-Clareview- Deron Bilous
7. Director Aboriginal Student Services Centre, Shana Dion (AMIQAAQ2 Born – This Way: Two Spirited Voices Conference 2012)
8. Openly Gay Canadian University Student and Makeup Artist, Chevi Rabbit
9. Performance by Broadway singer & Tony award nominated, Michelle Rios

The fact that so many prominent leaders agreed to speak illustrates that we will not tolerate hate! I was thrilled but not surprised at with the positive response from the community, police and media! I wasn’t surprised because since I went public about my attacked I have received so much support and well wishes! I know so many people care! Hundred of supporters showed up in purple attire! We were the “United Purple”! From very young to elders, many people came out to support equality for all walks of life! Canada is truly a unique country that allows its citizens to be their unique self and feel safe in doing so! Its not all perfect though — it would be a very boring place if it was — there does need to me more awareness and education to particular demographics on tolerance and acceptance! We may have legalized rights but we still need social equality, so that very soon, it will be normal part of life to see openly gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people expressing their love for their partners in public, like a hugging and holding hands! And feel safe in doing so! That our uniqueness will be tolerance and accepted! So that we don’t have to hold rallies or march in protest of injustices!

I feel so inspired by the events that have taken place! I want to help bring more awareness and education about social equality and tolerance! That it is okay to be your UNIQUE self and you should feel safe in doing so! Canada is an accepting and tolerant place! We can be fabulous and if you want to wear makeup! Go for it! Be fabulous!

The Edmonton Police have labeled this a “Gay Hate Crime”’ and are still investigating with no arrest made, yet!

One More Thing.

Oh, and, uh, here’s one more thing.

This is for Albertan trans folks who filed human rights complaints following the delisting of GRS funding in 2009 and on into 2012,

Who’ve been lobbying through up to (I think it’s) five tries to pass trans-inclusive human rights legislation at the federal level,

Who called or visited your MP,

Who called or visited your MLA,

Who joined us on the Legislature steps,

Who told your stories despite the risk of being out,

Who showed Alberta people, instead of myths,

Who wrote letters,

Who allied and mobilized even if you’re not trans and don’t fully understand the experience,

Who took the time to read and find out more, rather than stick to old misconceptions,

Who organized,

Who worked behind the scenes and may or may not get public credit for it,

Who gave us the opportunity to speak,

Who supported us in the Legislature and Parliament from the beginning,

Who came to understand how our minority issues intersect with and run parallel to others’,

Who rode the ups and downs and tried not to lose hope,

Who marched.

You did this.

This is how a movement begins.

Alberta reinstates funding for Sex Reassignment Surgery

The Alberta Government has announced that it will be reinstating health care funding for sex reassignment surgery (often called gender reassignment surgery, and abbreviated as GRS by the province and its clinicians), effective June 15th.

In the recent provincial election, Premier Alison Redford was returned to power by an electorate that appears to have been hoping her government would track back toward progressive politics.  Albertans have been watching to see if her government would indeed follow through, and in what manner.  An Angus Reid poll placed Ms. Redford as the second most popular Premier currently in power.

The province had cut funding in 2009 as a “cost savings measure” — however, the $700,000 savings (provided for approximately 16 people per year) wasn’t even a sliver of the provincial health budget.  Since then, the Province has been on shaky legal ground with the funding cut, since human rights tribunals have typically recognized the procedure as being medically necessary.  It was for this reason that the Province of Ontario ultimately reinstated funding, and B.C. abandoned an attempt to defund the surgery.  Judicial court rulings (eg.) in Canadian case law also indicated a likelihood that the medical necessity of GRS would be upheld.

The Trans Equality Society of Alberta responded to the announcement with a media release:

We are pleased that the current administration sees value in caring for all Albertan’s needs, enabling them to live happy, fulfilled lives.  The return of this coverage, who’s removal only saved Albertan’s $0.18 each annually, will give hope to those for whom GRS was previously out of reach.  While there are many other issues facing Trans-identified Albertans, this is a huge step in the direction of respect and dignity for the Trans Community by the Alberta Government. Thank you for taking this important first step.

The American Psychiatric Association and American Medical Association both stress that sex reassignment surgery is a medical necessity, and a 2008 resolution by the AMA emphasized that insurance companies should cover the procedure.

Most Canadian provinces have some form of coverage for GRS, although some have problematic quirks of process or costs that can create barriers to obtaining the procedure, and some still do not fund sex reassignment procedures for trans men.  In 2008, Nova Scotia’s Liberal Party added working toward GRS funding inclusion to their political platform, although it has not yet been accomplished in that province.

Internationally, several nations have also added coverage to their public health insurance programs over the past couple of years, including Cuba, Brazil, and Chile.  Argentina recently passed the most comprehensive policies on trans enfranchisement, which included GRS funding, new name change guidelines, anti-discrimination inclusion in their human rights code, and legal protections from hate crimes.  A number of Australian provinces are under renewed pressure to provide funding after an incident of attempted self-performed surgery in an act of desperation.  There have been (trigger warning) at least three other major self-mutilation incidents reported in international media in the past year, including one person in China who self-castrated and then jumped to their death because they couldn’t deal with the pain.  Although not all trans people decide that they require surgery, for those who do, it can be an absolute necessity.

Corporations have also been rapidly adding health plan coverage to their benefits programs, including Apple, Chevron, General Mills, Dow Chemical, Chubb, American Airlines, Kellogg, Sprint, Levi Strauss, Eli Lilly, Best Buy, Nordstrom, Volkswagen’s U.S. division, the University of Pennsylvania, Whirlpool, Xerox, Raytheon and Office Depot (note: some of these may not apply in Canada).  According to the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index (CEI), over 200 major U.S. businesses now include trans-inclusive health care coverage featuring surgical transition-related care, including 50% of Fortune 500 companies — an increase of over 1500% in that group since 2002.

Alberta’s 2009 announcement was followed by a mass filing of human rights complaints.  Due to changes in grandfather-through decisions, some of those complaints were negated when funding was given, and others are still in process.  Due to the backlash at the time of the announcement, the province had eventually conceded to provide funding for people already in transition prior to the cut, to a maximum of 20 per year.  A number of others who had not qualified for the “Phase Out” program (usually because of the timing of their first medical appointment after starting transition) had been typically offered GRS funding as part of a settlement during negotiation stages of their human rights complaints, but have not spoken to media due to confidentiality requirements.

Although this victory is huge, some concerns about medical access remain.  It can be difficult or near impossible to find trans-friendly (let alone trans-aware) medical practitioners in several regions of the province. This can make it hard to even find general practitioners willing to treat people for medical issues that are not trans-related.  For transition care, there is one clinic in Edmonton (therapy only, currently with an 18+ month waiting list) — in Calgary, there is also a once-a-month trans health clinic operated by a psychologist and a family doctor who’ve teamed up to try to help, but the need is one that is difficult to fill with a once-a-month model.  The previous Stelmach government had shut out attempts by the trans community to speak about these matters, and advocates are hopeful that this can now change.

On Wednesday, the Federal government voted to allow a human rights bill proposing protections for transsexual and transgender Canadians to committee for review and possible changes, toward a final vote.  The bill had passed in the previous Parliament, but died in the Senate upon the election call.

(Here is a full backgrounder on why GRS is medically necessary.  It is also available as a trifold brochure)

(Crossposted to The Bilerico Project Dented Blue Mercedes and Rabble.ca)

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