More than 40,000 people have signed a petition supporting Jenna Talackova’s bid to compete in Miss Universe. The trans beauty contest hopeful who was disqualifed and then re-admitted to the competition has attracted an international outpouring of solidarity.
NDP MP Randall Garrison hopes that momentum will now shift to the Canadian trans rights bill that will be debated in the House of Commons April 5.
It is the second reading of Garrison’s private members Bill C-279, which adds gender identity and gender expression to the list of statuses protected under the Canadian Human Rights Code and amends the Criminal Code to include anti-transgender violence, assault and harassment.
So far the second reading of Bill C-279 has received little media attention. Yet over the past week almost every Canadian mainstream media outlet has covered Talackova’s story.
Garrison thinks people seemed to understand and relate to how insulting it must have been when pageant officials told Talackova she could not compete because contestants must be “naturally born genetic women.”
“The story of the Trump beauty queen left a lot of people scratching their heads asking, ‘why would anyone try and exclude this woman?’” Garrison says. “That story has been very influential. It really focused a lot of people’s attention on the question of trans rights. It was so ridiculously discriminatory.”
Organizers at Miss Universe Canada, owned by Donald Trump, gave Talackova the boot when they learned she is transgender.
Talackova held a press conference this week in Los Angeles alongside a high-profile human rights lawyer from the United States. She has not hidden her trans status. She began hormone therapy at 14 and had sex reassignment surgery in 2010, and has stated this publicly. She held up legal documents, a passport, birth certificate and driver’s license.
International outrage over Talackova’s disqualification forced pageant officials to reevaluate their position. Trump responded April 4 on TMZ, the celebrity news website, saying Ms. Talackova is welcome to compete.
Now Talackova is demanding Trump erase the naturally-born female rule.
“It was tough to make an argument on the other side,” Garrison says. “Even the Trump organization was digging deep, trying to figure out some reason why they were discriminating.”
Unbeknownst to Trump, he stepped into the minefield of gender politics, says Garrison.
He thinks the obvious discrimination has helped bring attention to the issue. “It’s focused MPs onto the issue as well, so it has been helpful,” he says. “Also, public opinion is changing fast, and that’s helped to move along members of Parliament.”
Mercedes Allen, a writer and transsexual and transgender activist in Alberta, says there are larger and more pressing issues in the trans community than beauty pageants. She reminds that trans Canadians only recently learned they could be blocked from travelling on airplanes in Canada.
“I was quite surprised. I’m not all that interested in beauty pageants,” she says. “This is very small in comparison to other issues, not to make light of her experience. For example, in correctional facilities, trans people are still housed according to their genitals, so women end up imprisoned with men.”
Garrison’s bill would have an immediate affect on trans people’s lives, she says. Having the language encoded in human rights legislation sends a clear message that discrimination is unacceptable. “Legislators need to catch up to the public,” Garrison says.
This is the second time trans rights have been debated at the federal level. Last year, Parliament passed Bill C-389, a private member’s bill introduced by former MP Bill Siksay. However, the bill died in the Senate when Parliament was dissolved.
Garrison knows there is a good chance Bill C-279 may not pass.
“I’m always optimistic, but it is a Conservative majority, so we have our work cut out for us,” he says.
Now is the time for the community to step up the pressure, he says. “We are encouraging supportive groups and individuals to contact their MP directly. I know many trans groups that will be very active over the next two weeks. We break here in Ottawa, so MPs will be in their ridings.”
Allen agrees. She recommends trans Canadians visit their MPs in person. “With Jenna Talackova, seeing her face, hearing her story, that was all vital to help for people to understand. All the myths and scary images that people have are no longer issues.”
Bill C-279 returns to the House for a second debate and vote in about six weeks. After this vote the Bill will be sent to the justice committee. “This is the crucial vote,” says Garrison.
Watch as Donald Trump calls in to TMZ to reverse his position on Talackova because “the law is clear and we obey the law.” He added, he “couldn’t care less” if Jenna even competes.
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