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Trans rights in BC: will fourth bill finally pass?

Thousands sign letters and petitions calling on BC Liberals to protect trans people

Leada Stray presents a stack of signed letters from British Columbians who want the province’s Human Rights Code to explicitly protect trans people from discrimination. Credit: Jeremy Hainsworth

As gay MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert prepares to present his trans rights bill in the BC legislature April 27, 2016, trans rights activists rolled into Attorney General Suzanne Anton’s south Vancouver constituency office April 25 with 1,253 letters from people demanding the government pass the bill.

This will be Chandra Herbert’s fourth attempt to introduce the private member’s bill. If passed, it would add explicit protection for trans people to BC’s provincial Human Rights Code.

“If you’re a politician, you’re on notice,” campaign co-organizer Leada Stray tells Daily Xtra. “The vote is coming up. This is what the people want. Now do it.”

To Premier Christy Clark, Stray says, “It’s time. Your voters are speaking volumes.”

Stray says there is also a petition circulating with hundreds of signatures urging passage of Chandra Herbert’s bill, which is called “The Gender Identity and Expression Human Rights Recognition Act.”

In just one day, the petition collected 500 signatures outside Little Sister’s, Stray says.

(Leada Stray presents 1,253 signed letters to Attorney General Suzanne Anton’s constituency assistant, Tanya Tan, at Anton’s office as reporters watch on April 25, 2016./Jeremy Hainsworth photo)

Trans Alliance Society chair Morgane Oger told Anton’s constituency assistant, Tanya Tan, the Vancouver Pride Society has another 3,000 names from the 2015 Trans Equality Now campaign to add to the call for legislative action.

“The support is overwhelming and I’m a very happy drag queen,” Stray says.

Chandra Herbert first introduced his private member’s bill in the BC legislature in 2011 (and again in 2014 and 2015) in an ongoing attempt to explicitly add gender identity and expression to the BC Human Rights Code to protect trans and gender-variant people from discrimination.

“There’s explicit hatred against these people and I think it needs to be named explicitly in our Human Rights Code,” the NDP MLA tells Daily Xtra.

Chandra Herbert says BC is now behind most other provinces in enacting such changes.

Alberta, Ontario, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island all protect trans people in their provincial human rights codes on the basis of gender expression and identity.

Two more provinces (Manitoba and Saskatchewan) and Northwest Territories protect trans people on the basis of their gender identity but not expression.

“Almost no one agrees with the BC Liberals’ point of view, which is ‘stick your head in the sand,’” Chandra Herbert says.

He says opponents once fought against protecting people on the basis of their sexual orientation too.

“You have to name the violence,” he says. “You have to name what people are being discriminated against for.”

As optimistic as he remains about the bill, Chandra Herbert concedes it may have to wait for an NDP government for such legislation to eventually pass into law.

The governing BC Liberal Party has steadfastly maintained that transgender people are already protected under other categories of the Code, so gender identity doesn’t require explicit addition.

In an April 25, 2016, email statement to Daily Xtra, Anton says the Liberal government believes every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to equal protection.

“BC’s Human Rights Code unequivocally protects transgendered people — in fact, all British Columbians are protected from discrimination based on sex and sexual orientation, regardless of whether they are gay, lesbian, bisexual, heterosexual, transgender or transsexual,” Anton says.

“The law is crystal clear — transgendered people are protected, and I urge all British Columbians to recognize and accept the diversity of all people and to treat them with the respect they deserve,” Anton says.

Oger says if Chandra Herbert’s bill passes, enshrining trans rights in BC would go a long way to educating people in the province.

“The whole of society will be informed by this,” she says.

Knowing they’re protected from discrimination will help more trans people live their lives to the fullest, she says.