The Trans Alliance Society (TAS) wants BC’s Human Rights Code amended to explicitly prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression.
“Under the BC Human Rights Code, trans people are not recognized,” says TAS chair Raigen D’Angelo.
This leaves trans people vulnerable to discrimination in areas such as housing, health care, and employment, she claims.
Though the BC Human Rights Code does not explicitly name gender identity or expression as grounds protected from discrimination, the BC Human Rights Tribunal has consistently ruled since 1999 that trans people are eligible for protection from discrimination on the basis of their sex.
In 1999, the tribunal ruled in favour of Tawni Sheridan, concluding for the first time that “discrimination against a transsexual constitutes discrimination because of ‘sex.'”
“There’s never been a case involving transgendered people which has been lost on the ground that gender identity is not protected,” says lesbian lawyer barbara findlay, who represented Kimberly Nixon in her complaint against Rape Relief for excluding her on the basis of her transsexuality.
TAS’ definition of trans is broad; it includes not only those who identify as transgender or transsexual, but also female and male impersonators and crossdressers. Findlay confirms that there is no BC precedent for a discrimination claim based on gender “presentation” per se and says that TAS’ proposed amendment would “perhaps” extend protection to these groups.
But “getting changes to human rights legislation is actually quite difficult,” states findlay, adding that the people who need to be protected from discrimination are generally not those who are in political power.
D’Angelo says a local politician is willing to introduce the petition in the BC legislature this fall, but that’s all she’ll reveal. “I want this to be an issue for all parties,” she says. TAS is planning to spend the summer collecting signatures for its petition.
Despite the failure of similar amendment attempts in the past, D’Angelo says that she and her colleagues are trying “not to give false hope to the trans community” but instead “to really bring attention” to the issues concerning trans and gender-variant British Columbians.
“Every effort to make visible the rights and the struggles of trans people is important,” says findlay, “whether or not it immediately results in changes to the legislation.”
Findlay notes that the Human Rights Code serves as both legal protection and an education tool.
“It’s true that having the words explicitly included in the Code would increase the educational component,” she says.
“But it’s not likely to make a difference in terms of advocating for sex reassignment surgery or other trans health issues,” she adds.
Acknowledging the difficult road ahead, D’Angelo remains positive. “We have a youth population that is getting educated, that is really making big strides,” she says. “The next generation [of trans activists] are going to make big differences.”