On Friday, June 28, 2013, Toronto’s annual Trans Pride marchers met at the Norman Jewison park (behind Buddies in Bad Times theatre) to show support for transgender people’s rights and march to show our pride as transgender people and their supporters. The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual, Transgender, Intersex, Queer, Questioning, 2-Spirited (LGBTTIQQ2S) community (in case you weren’t sure what all the letters and numbers stood for) includes a plethora of queer-identified people. Some of these people identify as transgender.
In recent times, much confusion has surrounded the notions of queer, sex, gender and transgender definitions. Queer is an umbrella term that encompasses a broad range of sexual and gender identities, behaviors and expressions. Sex speaks to physical aspects of our bodies. Although Canadians’ dominant perception is that one’s sex determines one’s gender, this is not the case for transgender people whose physical sex often does not match their gender.
That is: a person born with female primary and secondary genitalia may self-identify as male. In this case, sex does not match gender – get it? This is where we get to “Trans.” The word “Trans” is often used as an umbrella term for transgender, transsexual, and others; however, not all “gender variant” people identify with this label. A general rule of thumb: if you don’t know and the person has not self-identified, why does it matter? A person’s gender is not always everyone’s business. Still, many people do self-identify and when they do it is important to understand what they mean. That is, Transgendered is a term that refers to someone whose gender doesn’t necessarily match the sex they were given at birth; Transsexual is a term typically reserved for those who want to change, or who have changed their body to be more in line with how they identify themselves; and Two-Spirited is a term that some First Nations communities use to describe a person who possesses both the male and female spirit.
Among many talks and activities, this year’s Trans Pride included a “human library,” where transgender individuals volunteered as human books to discuss their stories with participants who “checked out human books” and agreed to answer questions and share their experiences in order to raise awareness of transgender issues.
And, as in previous years, the march began with a rally in Norman Jewison park that included inspirational speakers from the transgender community and long moments to reflect on the untimely death of so many transgender people who took their own lives – transgender people have one of the highest suicide rates – and those whose lives were taken due to transgender-phobic violence. I took a moment to remember Liam, a wonderful transgender man and a good friend, who took his life before the Trans Pride march existed.
Many also remembered Toby Dancer, for whom the recent Toby’s Act (more formally known as Cill 33) was named. Deemed the “Bathroom Bill” by the Family Coalition Party who opposed the bill by arguing that Toby’s Act would allow men to have legal access to spy on young girls in women’s bathrooms, Toby’s Act became Ontario law in 2012 and explicitly outlined transgender people’s rights to equal treatment. As a result, many business and operations have opted for gender neutral bathrooms, the Toronto District School Board issued guidelines this month on how to accommodate transgender students, and transgender people born in Ontario are now able to change the gender on their birth certificate without having to go through gender reassignment surgery. However, transgender communities continue to struggle for inclusivity and equality in society and in the workplace due to deeply entrenched social attitudes and perceived norms.
Although Bill-33 has successfully changed provincial laws, the federal government has yet to accept equality for transgender people, proposed under Bill C-279 into federal law. Bill C-279 stands to protect transgender Canadians against discrimination in the Canadian Human Rights Act and prohibits promotion of hatred or incitement of genocide on the basis of gender identity.
The 2013 Trans march was the largest Trans event in Toronto to date and the biggest Trans march ever in the GTA. For the first time since the Trans Pride march started in 2009, the march proceeded down Yonge Street, where drivers waved their flags and honked horns to show their support. The crowd culminated at Allen Gardens where everyone enjoyed the evening with new and old friends and supporters.
Still, we must remember that, however open Ontario’s system has become to transgender issues as a result of Bill 33’s passage, formal equality – equality in the law – does not necessarily produce substantive equality, or equality of outcome. The passage of a bill is not the end of the issue, but the begging. Transgender people in Ontario continue to face social isolation, high unemployment rates, high poverty rates, and higher rates of homelessness and assault than other Ontario residents. Equality does not stop with the law. Equality is a constant pursuit that all of us must actively engage in. Thus, going forward, policies that strengthen transgender peoples’ access to equality on both a formal and substantive level should include positive discrimination in hiring practices strengthened by enforced quotas, employer education promotions, and public awareness campaigns; increased funding for transgender health and suicide prevention programming; and increased visual inclusion of transgender people in government publications and research studies.
Natasha Segal is a 2014 MPP Candidate at the School of Public Policy and Governance. She also holds a Masters of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing, an Honours B.A. in Professional Communications, and a Diploma in Social Services. Her interests include social policy, women’s rights, LGTB rights, creative non-fiction prose, and photography.