Vote on Monday May 2nd.

I’m getting back to trans issues for this post, and will resume the “In The Bedrooms of the Nation” series shortly.

Firstly, I’m not going to tell you how to vote.  If you care about trans issues, however, I might be able to help you narrow it down a little.  Trans human rights are only one of several issues, but it’s certainly reasonable to want to choose among candidates that are trans-positive.  But the bottom line is this: vote! Continue reading

In The Bedrooms of the Nation I: A Brief Canadian History and Political Forces

Social consciousness was in a state of flux.  Oral contraceptives had been available in the U.S. for several years but were banned in Canada.  Sodomy had been decriminalized in the U.K. in 1967.  Medical professionals and activists called for the legalization of abortion in circumstances where the pregnancy caused immediate danger to the mother.  And George Klippert was convicted of “gross indecency” for having consensual gay sex — and because he was determined to be “incurably homosexual,” he was sentenced to indefinite “preventive” detention (essentially a life sentence, which the Supreme Court of Canada later upheld).

On Dec. 21, 1967, Justice Minister and future Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau responded by introducing Omnibus Bill C-150, which amended the Criminal Code of Canada.  It decriminalized homosexuality, made abortion possible, legalized contraception, tweaked gambling and gun laws, and more.  It passed on May 14, 1969, coming into force on the eve of the Stonewall riots in New York City.  When introducing the bill, he famously told CBC,

there’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation.

42 years later, it keeps trying.

Continue reading

Distinctions Are Important in Fired Trans Teacher’s Dispute

Watch the interview on CTV

It’s not unusual for parties in a legal dispute to seek a non-disclosure agreement, in which the dollar amount or specific terms of an agreement are not for discussion.  That kind of non-disclosure agreement was not what the Greater St. Albert Catholic Regional Division (GSACRD) sought when making an offer to Jan Lukas Buterman, the substitute teacher in the Edmonton area who was fired because he was undergoing a transition to male.

Under the terms that GSACRD sought, Buterman would not be able to acknowledge that the discrimination ever happened, and could be held in violation of the terms of the settlement if it were perceived that he spoke about the incident at all — it’s not clear what this might mean if portions of old interviews surfaced.  During the months that have transpired since his complaint was first filed, Buterman found that despite his own silence, he really had no control over how or when his firing was brought up.  After all, it is relevant in his work as the current Chair of the Trans Equality Society of Alberta (TESA), an advocacy organization that involves itself in issues that include employment rights.  (Full disclosure: this writer is also a board member of TESA). From the Canadian Press:

For months he spoke out in favour of federal Bill C-389, which would have amended the Canadian Human Rights Act to prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity or gender expression. The bill passed third reading in Parliament earlier this year, but died in the Senate last month when the federal election was called.

Buterman says he has a right to speak out about the discrimination he faced.

“People like us have all experienced job harassment, job discrimination, job loss — it is a common theme in the community,” he says. “The only difference between me and everyone else is that I got mine in writing. I have no interest in pretending it didn’t happen.”

It’s an important distinction, and one that one could reasonably speculate that the GSACRD does not want people to make, as it has become known that Buterman has declined a cash settlement.  In fact, a string of distinctions has already enabled the school district to sway favour from people who don’t realize the details:

1. Separate, But Yes, Still Equal

While the Greater St. Albert Catholic Regional Division is a Catholic school district, in the Province of Alberta Catholic school districts are publicly funded and are therefore subject to the same laws and requirements as public school districts, including non-discrimination regulations.

2. The Only Game In Town

In the majority of its region, there is no corresponding public school district, so GSACRD oversees the area’s public schools, and is the only public employer in that region.  This is an ongoing issue that parents in the region have been raising, including a delegation that spoke to GSACRD last December after one parent found that a public school was teaching her daughter Catholic perspectives on creation:

“They are breaking the rights of the children under the Human Rights Act of Canada, and they are breaking the rights of the children under the Alberta School Act, where they have the right to a secular education from their public school system,” [another parent Dave] Redman said. “This is a public school system. If they wish to be a separate school system, that’s wonderful. I’m happy if they wish to teach Catholicism every day and in every way to the children that attend the school as a separate school.”

Because there is no secular option, students are allowed to opt out of the Religion class and take a health and wellness class instead.  Having attended a Catholic school back when that class was called “Catechism” and faith was ever-pervasive far beyond that one class, I’d be skeptical that that option would make much difference.  And sure enough, blogs one former student in the district, at the prominent Canadian blog, Daveberta:

My personal experience attending these schools makes me keenly aware of how thin the “public” line of the system actually was. I chose not to attend Religion classes in high school, like most of my graduating cohort, yet we still had to start classes with morning and afternoon prayers. A student could avoid some of the more pervasive official religious education inside the classroom, but there was no mistake that the schools themselves existed in a religious environment.

This issue is continuing even now.  MorinvilleNews Editor Stephen Dafoe made a short film documenting the different sides of the dispute.

3.  It’s Not As Easy As “Just Find Another Job.”

Based on responses when I’d previously written on this, U.S. -based readers are unaware of the way substitute teachers are handled in Alberta, and how that differs from south of the border.  Here, they complete their degree before entering the classroom to teach.  By the time they become substitute teachers, they’ve already invested heavily in making education their career.  It is also a requirement for teachers to put in a minimum number of hours before being able to become a permanently-placed instructor, so the dismissal, lack of other employers in the region and unavailable hours are actually a significant career obstacle.

The Question Now

So now, the question becomes twofold: 1) whether the GSACRD discriminated against Buterman when they fired him, and 2) whether the money and conditions offered constitute a fair and equitable settlement.  On the first point, there’s not a lot of doubt, considering they put it in writing:

In a letter, Steve Bayus, deputy superintendent of schools for Greater St. Albert, wrote that in discussions with the archbishop of the Edmonton diocese, it was their view that “the teaching of the Catholic Church is that persons cannot change their gender. One’s gender is considered what God created us to be…. Since you made a personal choice to change your gender, which is contrary to Catholic teachings, we have had to remove you from the substitute teacher list,” Bayus wrote.

4. Silence, Or Total Erasure?

Much of the coverage right now is focusing on whether the $78,000 cash offer constitutes a fair and reasonable settlement.  But it is not the only question.  Is total erasure and even a requirement to participate in erasing the fact that discrimination ever occurred a reasonable requirement when the community concerned is in desparate need of advocative voices, and is nearly invisible in human rights discussions in Canada?  The Conservative party largely took the position that human rights protections for trans people were unnecessary and (with a few exceptions) opposed them at every juncture when Bill C-389 proceeded through Parliament.  There are few “out” trans people who can speak to this issue.

(Crossposted to The Bilerico Project)

And There It Is

The NDP unveiled their platform today.  On page 18 (or 20, if you’re looking at the PDF), they vowed to reintroduce a trans rights bill:

5.13 Promoting Equality Rights in Canada

• We will ensure that gender identity and gender expression
are included as prohibited grounds of discrimination in the
Canadian Human Rights Act, amend the hate crimes and
sentencing provisions of the Criminal Code to ensure we are
providing explicit protection for transgender and transsexual
Canadians from discrimination in all areas of
federal jurisdiction;

• We will support gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans-gender and
transsexual equality internationally, as per the Montreal and
Jakarta Declaration on Human Rights;

The Liberal Party platform, which we watched leader Michael Ignatieff unveil a week ago, does not.  The Green Party platform also does not explicitly include a pledge to support trans rights.  Both leaders have supported trans rights in the past, and many of their candidates do as well.  Both party leaders could stand to clarify their positions.

In the meantime, my Canadian readers who are concerned about human rights for transsexual and transgender people have at least one choice to vote for on Monday, May 2, 2011. Readers are encouraged to ask candidates in their riding to also pledge their individual support.

Vote for Trans Rights Facebook Group

CBC Vote Compass

Her Own Payette Idaho Revisited

On Tuesday, Catherine Carlson’s trial begins.  She could potentially receive a life sentence for first degree arson, unlawful possession of a bomb or destructive device, using a hoax destructive device, and indecent exposure.  She could receive up to 35 years in prison, which would probably mean the rest of her life.

There seems to be frustratingly little will to talk about her story, and I’m concerned that it’s because people in our community often act like it’s “embarassing” or politically bad if someone lashes out.  Even if the reason for their lashing out appears to be a long legacy of struggling against transphobia, and an ongoing campaign of antagonism from the surrounding community and the authorities that govern it.  According to Boise Weekly:

… during traffic stops or identification checks by police, Carlson claimed her private information was broadcast over police scanners that she said “put a target” on her back in what she calls the small, conservative, religious community of Payette. Carlson’s efforts to have her male identity removed from Idaho records have been unsuccessful, leading her to what she considered her “breaking point” last July.

“You want to know why this mobile home went up in flames?” asked Carlson. “It went up in flames because they wouldn’t transfer it into my name, and the reason why is because I don’t have an ID. And I don’t have an ID because they are insisting that they keep that aka [Carlson's previous male identity].”

The following has been reblogged from previous, but will be new to readers of The Bilerico Project, where I’ve crossposted.

Sunday, July 11, 2010, a mobile home and pickup truck were torched, fake pipe bombs found and a woman was arrested running naked down a county road carrying another fake pipe bomb. On that day, the Argus Observer reported:

When fire and police personnel arrived, they found what appeared to be four pipe bombs on the front porch of the residence and a propane tank between the bombs.“There was a note that said, ‘Do not enter. House booby-trapped. This is a bomb,’” Clark said.

Catherine Carlson was charged with arson, indecent exposure and making fake pipe bombs.  But the details of what drove Carlson to self-destruct and (my speculation, here) attempt suicide-by-cop paint a several-years-long shocking picture of inner death by misidentification.

The spark for this is said to have began back in December 2007, when she was given an $841 fine for driving with a suspended license.  Though her name was legally changed in the 1970s and she has not used the old male name since, authorities insisted on including her previous name from decades ago on the ticket as an “a.k.a.”  She refused to pay this ticket because of the court’s insistence on keeping that name on it, and has served jail time on at least four occasions, including a 5-day stretch in September 2008 and a 3-day stretch in October 2008.  Although post-operative since 1980, she was kept in segregation.  At that time, the Observer reported:

Carlson said, when she was in jail, she could hear men’s voices from her cell and said she was told the women’s cells were full. However, after communicating with nearby incarcerated women, she said she learned two of those bunks were empty when she was checked in and continued to be so.

Payette County Sheriff Chad Huff said the “3-man” cell Carlson was placed in was not specifically designated as either male or female.

He said Carlson was housed by herself in the cell because jail officials could not “confirm her gender.”

He also said the jail does not have any legal obligation to house her with the women, which he confirmed with the county’s legal department and the Idaho Counties Risk Management Program.

“We will never put her in with the females,” he said. “That’s just how it is.”

(When I first posted on this, a reader took me to task for pointing out that she was post-operative.  I do not believe that operative status should be the hinge upon which we should determine housing.  However, the fact that she is post-operative demonstrates with absolute clarity that her treatment as a “man” is motivated purely by irrational phobia, rather than some weak reliance on the assumption that anyone with a penis is a potential predator)

A bookkeeper in Redwood City, CA eventually paid the fine.  But the old name remains on record, and in fact likely came into use by Payette County officials after her mother revealed it to the court during a late 1990s dispute over a house.

By December, 2008, Carlson was a mess, and her weight dropped to 105 pounds. The Olympian reported:

She used to wear pretty dresses, fix herself up. Now she only has a couple blouses and says she doesn’t want to attract attention to herself. She leaves her trailer about once every 10 days.

“You’re going to have to make me one of ‘We the People,'” Carlson said.

In April of 2009, MSNBC detailed her story, including the rocky relationship Carlson has had with her mother, such as an angry beating of the “awful mischievous child” with an electric cord.  Although her mother expressed some remorse, all was still not well:

Almost 29 years after Catherine’s operation, Bowman is still trying to reconcile her deeply held religious beliefs and her distress over this boy she gave life to and this woman she has so much trouble understanding.

“I do not approve of transsexuals, I believe the way the Lord created us is the way we should stay,” Bowman said. “But he was my child and I supported her.”

Following the self-destructive pipe bomb incident, KIVI-TV conducted a telephone interview with Catherine which is very telling:

Steve Bertel: “… but she tells me that the cause of all of her trouble is her frustration with how she’s treated as a transgender woman in Payette County. She tells me that agencies there refuse to use her female name, Catherine, and instead insist that she be called *****.”

Catherine Carlson (by phone): “Nobody ever refers to me by that name… except the State of Idaho.  And… I just… I just… cannot take it anymore.  They’re not going to allow me to have a life, then they’re going to have to take my life, because I cannot live my life with an a.k.a.  It puts a target on my back, it… it seriously endangers my welfare.”

When the desperation has escalated to attempted-suicide-by-cop, all because of stubborn insistence on maintaining a moniker that has long been irrelevant, something is very seriously wrong.  Let me count the ways:

1) For as little value as there is in noting a name that a person has not willingly used in decades, names gendered contrary to trans peoples’ presentation expose them to discrimination, isolation and sometimes violence.  When law enforcement agencies insist on documenting such names in places where the revelation can turn into violence, they are potentially culpable by incitement, and Carlson’s fear of the public would seem to indicate that county officials’ knowledge did not simply stay hidden in court record.  Although not as overt, this is certainly not without precedence.  We don’t know what whisper campaigns, conflicts and troubles have resulted in her everyday life, but it is clear from what has been reported so far that the name and history revelations have made Carlson terrified of going out into public, and that this has had serious physical and emotional consequences for her.

2) As much as media is aware and reporting that Catherine Carlson’s troubles and self-destruction are a result of ongoing misidentification and the creation of a target as a person with a known trans history, media outlets continue  to include in their report that she “used to be named *****.”  (At the time this was originally posted, it was overwhelming — since then, a number of publications, including Boise Weekly, have stopped publishing the old name.) At this point, of course, her current name and trans history are going to be widespread knowledge and the least of her problems, but the salt in the wound — or worse, challenging her core identity — is really not necessary.

3) Solitary confinement is a form of mental abuse and dehumanization that should really only be used when the person in question is causing trouble (which is not the same as when the person in question is the target of trouble).  It is the most extreme punishment that can be used on prisoners short of capital punishment, and has a toll on a person that means it should be used only for extreme circumstances — not prescribed for someone indefinitely simply because they’re trans or perceived as trans.  Although it’s said to help protect trans women against rape, it has occasionally happened where some would rather chance the rape than endure the isolation.  There needs to be a better system of including and protecting trans inmates with populations with which they identify.  But when you add this to the fact that Carlson is many years post-operative, the old, weak “she might be perceived as a danger to the other women” argument doesn’t even have a ghost of substance.

“We will never put her in with the females,” [Payette County Sheriff Chad Huff] said. “That’s just how it is.”

4) Payette County law enforcement’s bigotry is showing.  If that’s how they regard her, how have they addressed her and treated her?

“You’re going to have to make me one of ‘We the People,'” Carlson had said.

If she’s open to the idea, we could start by being a community for her, right now.

(crossposted to The Bilerico Project)  There are some comments on the original entry worth noting.

Canada’s Proposed “Office of Religious Freedom”

The Conservative Party unveiled their election platform on Friday.  In it, they promise to launch an “Office of Religious Freedom” (emphasis theirs):

DEFENDING RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
Around the world vulnerable religious minorities are subject to persecution, violence, and repression.

Canada has a proud tradition of defending fundamental human rights, such as freedom of religion and freedom of conscience; and our Government recognizes that respect for religious pluralism is inextricably linked to democratic development.

But we can and should do more to respond to the plight of those who suffer merely because of their faith.  We will:

  • create a special Office of Religious Freedom in the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade to monitor religious freedom around the world, to promote religious freedom as a key objective of Canadian foreign policy, and to advance policies and programs that support religious freedom;
  • continue to ensure that Canada offers its protection to vulnerable religious minorities through our generous refugee resettlement programs; and
  • ensure that the Canadian International Development Agency works with groups supporting such vulnerable minorities.

They estimate in their platform budget that this office will cost five million dollars per year.

Questions, questions.

So how exactly are they going to promote religious freedom in other countries?

Will this affect how we’re seen as a nation on the international stage if we’re meddling in their affairs?

How are we going to ensure that this work will be done fairly, i.e. advocating for ALL religious freedoms?

Will advocating for Muslims in Israel be a part of the agenda? They’d be the religious minority, there.

How do we resolve it when advocating for one religion runs counter to the needs or wants of another?

Or are we simply going to be donating money to various religious agencies to proselytize in other countries, to the tune of $5 mil a year?

How do we determine which religion is a minority in a country and therefore a religion we wish to support?

Will this be accompanied by a similar fostering of religious minorities here in Canada? Muslims? Sikhs? Buddhists?  Scientologists?  Moonies?  What about the Mormons in B.C. who are currently defending their polygamous marriages partly on the basis of their religious freedoms?

Can such an office even possibly be directed without a bias of any kind?  And if it’s biased, then how can we truly say that the guiding principle is religious freedom?

If we have such a great record defending human rights, why did the Conservative party (with a few exceptions) vote nearly overwhelmingly against human rights for trans people?

And if we continue to have gaps in our own human rights legislation, do we really have a right to be telling other nations how to do democracy?

However, the idea is popular with Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, too:

“We think an initiative like is the kind of thing that ought to have the support of all sides in politics,” Mr. Ignatieff told reporters Saturday at a press conference in downtown Toronto… “Mr. Ignatieff cautioned, however, that this office should not be “politicized”. Whatever work is done must also respect “the sovereignty of countries overseas.”

Interestingly, this isn’t going over so well among the extreme right, with Free Dominion commenters saying things like the following:

The biggest problem with an Office of Religious Freedom is that it will quickly become an instrument for taking away the religious liberty of someone (orthodox and conservative Christians) in the name of the religious liberty of all. “Office of Religious Freedom”. Does that not sound Orwellian for “secular inquisition”? We already have one of those in Canada. It is called the Canadian Human Rights Commission/Tribunal. We don’t need the one we have, let alone another one.

After all, sooner or later, Harper will be gone, and the Office of Religious Freedom will be run by someone who will not have a particular preference on which religion to support.  The thought of such an office being directed by someone who is not a Christian Nationalist cannot be a very appealing thought to Christian Nationalists (not to be confused with all Christians).

People of faith need separation of church and state (which unlike our neighbour to the south, Canada does not have in any existing legislation) just as much as people of minority faith or no faith.

Perhaps THAT should be the campaign pledge.  Any takers?

Recommend this post at Progressive Bloggers.

(If I don’t respond to comments right away, be aware that due to computer issues, I’m still semi-offline.)

Cynicism, Coalitions and Contempt

Is it just me, or is it more than a little condescending to predicate your whole re-election strategy on the idea that Canadians find it a bother to vote? Because that’s what has happened in the Government of Harper: this has been shaped as a race between Sir Stephen and the spectre of having to vote again in a few years.  Oh save us, oh great and holy one!

Don’t get me wrong: going to the polls four times in seven years just for the feds alone (plus probably at least four more for provincial and civic races) isn’t ideal either. But the idea that the worst crisis Canadians could face by failing to fork over a majority is to have to exercise their democratic rights again is incredibly cynical, if not insulting. How many times have we dreamed of the opportunity to recall our government, and throw the lot of them out altogether?  Harper’s attempts to drive the point home that actually doing so is discouraging and a bother shows contempt for the Canadian voter.

Especially when he’s not really against coalitions, if it means he can obtain power (h/t Enormous Thriving Plants):

But then, contempt is what started this whole process: an historic finding of being in contempt of Parliament — for failing to disclose necessary information in order for MPs to fulfill their roles as legislators.

So in the first week of the campaign, Harper would have us believe that we’d rather have someone who obstructs Parliament, who can be in contempt of it, who prorogues it to shut it down whenever things become politically challenging for him… instead of having the opportunity to have a say in the matter.

But then, if he wants to convince his own supporters how much of a bother it is to go to the polls, that’s entirely his prerogative, I suppose.  Just imagine….

“I’m gonna get in trouble for that one.”

Which says a little about who he fears more: the voters or the Christian Nationalists.

On May 2nd, vote.

Vote positive.  Ask the candidates if they’d support trans rights, and support those who do.

Chances are, you’ll have more than one in your race.

Not sure which party is closest to you ideologically?  Try the CBC’s Vote Compass.

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