Although I’ll be remarking on the passing of Bill C-16 elsewhere, I wanted to post Bill Siksay’s closing speech from February 7, 2011, back when the bill was in its third incarnation (of five), Bill C-389. To me, it’s a profound moment to look back on, and realize just how far we’ve come.
It took 12 years to pass this bill. For the first six, it was completely ignored, as was the trans* rights movement. Shortly after this speech, the bill did pass at Third Reading, and the effort finally was taken seriously… but was then very hard fought. This speech was the moment (if there was any single one) that things changed.
I hope that Mr. Siksay’s efforts are remembered now. Trans* people have usually been told to wait their turn, that legislation is incremental, that we should work for gay rights, and then the LGBTQ movement would come back for us. This was a rare exception in which someone actually did come back.
Although the efforts of Randall Garrison, Jody Wilson-Raybould, and Grant Mitchell deserve much recognition, it would be very wrong to forget the person who started it all.
Mr. Bill Siksay (Burnaby—Douglas, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank all of the MPs who participated in the debate on Bill C-389 here in the House, in committee and in the community. I want to express my appreciation to those who are supporting the bill. Please note too that members of the transgender and transsexual communities appreciate this support.
I would like to speak personally for a moment. As a gay man, I know that securing my place as a full and equal citizen has been a long journey and an often hard-fought struggle. As a gay man, I know that my liberation came about thanks to the hard work, risk-taking and sacrifice of many queer brothers and sisters, and many strong allies. As a gay man, I know that the battle for my equality in our society was often led, often championed, by members of the transgender and transsexual community. I know that it was the drag queens who helped us fight back, and perhaps taught us to fight back, against the oppression, discrimination, prejudice and violence that we faced.
At Stonewall, but also long before and long after Stonewall, it was members of the trans community who helped lead and motivate our fight, and who stood in solidarity with us time and time again. That is one reason why I am proud to stand in solidarity with the transgender and transsexual community, as we finally seek their full equality and seek to establish their full human rights in law in Canada.
I have been greatly honoured to have been taken into the confidence of the trans community to be an ally and to work in solidarity with the community. It has been an honour to hear their stories and learn of their struggles. I have learned to be a better ally, a better friend, a better citizen as a result.
I have met beautiful, strong, loving and articulate people who face challenges I can hardly imagine and I am sure I do not fully appreciate. I count as friends people who live proud lives and express their full humanity against many odds. My understanding of what it means to be fully human has been challenged and expanded greatly by what I have been taught.
I have seen and sometimes shared the frustration, the anger, the tears and the deep sadness of people who are not yet equal, who too often face violence, sometimes to the point of death, and who mourn the loss of friends and family for whom the pain was more than they could bear. I have been strengthened by their resolve to claim their true identity and their place in our society, to live full lives and to be fully human.
This week the House will make a decision on the explicit inclusion of transgender and transsexual Canadians in our human rights law. That vote on Wednesday night will likely be very close. We may see the bill pass, which will be a cause for celebration and an opportunity to continue our work as it moves to the Senate; but the bill may also be defeated, it is that close. If that happens, let us remember that things have changed since we began this particular project six years ago. Let us remember that this is not the only forum in the struggle for the full equality of trans people. Let us not forget the victories and progress we have made in other places. Let us bask in the support of the new friends and allies we have found here in this place and across the country, and let us get ready to resume our work with new strategies and new plans.
I am confident that the change we seek will come. Justice will be done, and perhaps very soon the open and proud voice of transgender and transsexual Canadians will be heard loudly and clearly in this place. I hope that very soon an open member of the trans community will be elected and be able to directly, and from personal experience, voice the concerns of the community here in the House of Commons. There are celebrations to come.
For what it’s worth, if you watch at the 11:55 mark, you’ll see the original Third Reading voice vote (not the actual vote, but the vocal yeas or nays that can function as a vote if there is a clear winner and not enough division to tabulate a count), and the Speaker of the House Andrew Scheer (who is now the Conservative Party leader) ignores an audibly loud expression of support for the bill to say, “In my opinion, the nays have it.” Fortunately, there was enough division to ensure that there was a tallied vote.
Some other speeches made in Parliament over the years (chronologically):
Hedy Fry (C-389; June 8, 2010):
Megan Leslie (C-389; February 7, 2011):
Randall Garrison (C-279; April 5, 2012):
Dany Morin (C-279; April 5, 2012; en Français):
Craig Scott (C-279; June 4, 2012):
Joyce Murray (C-279; June 5, 2012):
Jody Wilson-Raybould (C-16; Oct. 16, 2016):
I know that I have missed many powerful moments.
In the end, it can be tempting to be angry that this has taken 12 years to accomplish the encoding of basic human rights protections. But there is something to remember: for each of those 12 years, Canadians were talking about trans* people. And (mostly) learning. This has been an important silver lining.
The fearmongering that takes place tends to travel in an arc: it catches on like wildfire, then people start learning the truth behind the myths, and eventually the myths lose their power and become marginal, laughable things at best. It happened with bathroom panic, it happened may times during the gay & lesbian rights struggle, it happened for other civil rights movements, and we will continue to see it happen here. The same will be true of the “free speech” fetishistic panic about pronouns… as long as we continue to challenge that panic with reality.
And in doing that, we can move forward.