Canada
3 min

Donald’s pageant trumps our legislators on trans rights

It has been a big year for the advancement of rights for trans people, and I’m not just referring to legislative efforts like the federal Bill C-279 and Toby’s Act in Ontario. Just take a look at the media.
 
In January, a TV show based on the juvenile notion that it’s funny to watch men dressing up as women was cancelled after two episodes.
 
Last fall, millions tuned in to see how Chaz Bono would fare on Dancing with the Stars. And in the last few weeks, not only has trans bombshell Jenna Talackova been reinstated to the Miss Universe Canada competition after first being disqualified, the organization has also agreed to rescind its now infamous “must be born female” restriction.
 
In a public statement on the decision, Miss Universe organization president Paula Shugart credited the advocacy work done by GLAAD. In reality, the decision rested with pageant owner Donald Trump.
 
In a radio interview with TMZ, after tastelessly bragging about his genitals, Trump mentioned his reasons for reinstating Talackova. He makes no mention of GLAAD.
 
“We said she would be able to compete, based on the laws of Canada and the laws of the United States . . . So we go by the law, and based on the laws, she’s able to compete if she wants to.”
 
Tens of thousands of people cried out online against the disqualification, and the social media sphere heavily favoured Talackova. As the story spread, even mainstream media began to label the Miss Universe rules discriminatory, outmoded and unfashionable.
 
Like any billionaire, Trump chose his words carefully. By repeating the word “law” a total of seven times, he subtly appeases any offended conservatives by artfully giving the impression the decision was legally foisted upon him, even though that’s likely untrue.
 
Under the current nebulous law in Canada, Miss Universe honchos could have fought Talackova in court, and they may have succeeded. In the States, too, precious few jurisdictions have any sort of gender identity protections in place.

However, such a battle would have certainly generated more public ill will toward the Miss Universe brand.
 

Questioned further, Trump revealed what is likely the real motivation behind his decision. “Certainly it’s gotten a tremendous amount of publicity, and the Miss Canada pageant has become very sought. I tell you, the tickets have gone through the roof, and everybody wants to be there . . . in certain ways, it’s not necessarily the worst thing that could ever happen.”
 
Profit is paramount and therefore Talackova is in, and transphobic rules are out, and we have loud and forceful pro-trans public opinion to thank for it.
 
In separate recently conducted polls, Canadians and Americans both responded overwhelmingly in favour of giving trans people the same rights and protections as everyone else. The numbers were about the same in both countries, more than 90 percent in favour. In 2012, people are less divided on trans rights than on same-sex marriage.
 
Education is likely the force driving this phenomenon. The American poll revealed something interesting, and perhaps unexpected: more than two thirds of people have a pretty good idea of what it means to be trans. When asked, the majority gave reasonable answers, such as “switches from one gender to another” or “born in the wrong body,” outweighing a much smaller percentage who could only provide fallacious responses such as “has a different sexual preference” or “has both sex organs.” I thank positive media portrayals of trans people, both in the news and in entertainment.
 
To a person who has never had any trans exposure, the idea that one might feel they were born in a mismatched body may seem weird, even preposterous or creepy. But in my experience, all it takes to convert someone who was previously transphobic is to actually meet a trans person. 
 
When they see and hear us express ourselves, it just clicks. You can tell the moment they realize we’re legit. The subsequent change in perspective is easy to understand — once you’ve got a friend, an acquaintance or even just a celebrity you respect who is living the trans experience and teaching you about the realities inherent to that, cracking jokes about it is no longer funny.
 
So private organizations are beginning to do the right thing, not necessarily out of altruism, but mainly because they are accountable to their customer base — and marketers recognize the rising tide of cultural acceptance and respect for trans people.
 
Private companies have certainly outpaced our federal government. As an excuse to vote against C-279, most Conservative MPs are claiming trans people are already sufficiently protected under existing law. This, despite ongoing problems trans people face, including the inability to access gender-appropriate identification documents.
 
In addition, trans people have lost gender identity court cases, and Transport Canada has instituted regulations that technically ban trans people from air travel.
 
With government squarely to blame for the harshest and most institutionalized transphobic discrimination, perhaps public opinion can sway our legislators to catch up with contemporary attitudes.
 
It’s sad when our leaders and lawmakers are less progressive than an American billionaire’s beauty pageant.